Fighting reality

The moment I accept

the reality of what is,

is the moment

I relax.


Saturday morning, 4.30am. Jet lag kicks in and I’m not sleeping. I should sleep. I need to be refreshed. I’ve crossed an ocean for the annual tai chi workshop and I want to be rested, relaxed. So I worry about not sleeping.

Oh, the irony.

Every year that I attend this workshop I arrive with a suitcase of worries. Will it be too hot? Am I good enough at tai chi to be here? What if the travel plans go wrong? Did I do everything I needed to do before I left work, before I left home? What if I don’t feel well and miss some of the workshop? What if, what if.

And every year, I love it. I have the most amazing time. I learn, I reconnect with friends, I make new friends. I relax, deeply. I gain insights in my practice. Yes, sometimes it’s too hot, occasionally I’ve felt a bit under the weather, but I still have a great time.

4.30 am, Saturday morning. I must go back to sleep. I am anxiously awake.

Then a thought pops into my head. Should I really be asleep? Really? Is that true? No. I am awake. That is the reality.

What would happen if I just accepted that I’m awake? That it’s OK to be awake at 4.30 in the morning and it won’t ruin my whole week?

So I did. And suddenly I’m just lying awake, relaxed, in a comfortable bed. I just enjoy lying there in the darkness, listening to the first tentative notes of the foreign dawn chorus.

And all the other things I am worrying about just dissolve in the dawn.

There is such ease to be found in living life this way, accepting what is instead of fighting reality.

This is my new practise.

Letting life unfold

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,

spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

Basho


I have loved this haiku ever since I first read it. Twenty-five years ago I wrote it out on a piece of card and stuck it over my desk when I was revising for my final exams at university.

I felt instinctively that the words were true, yet I was stuck in a life where I had to strive to make things happen; work, and work some more, worry, then work harder, in order to get a qualification, so that I could get a job, so that I could carry on working hard.

The end was never in sight, just a life of effort and busyness.

I longed for a life where I was like the grass, biding my time and then growing when the conditions were right.

Or a life where I was just sitting, observing, not worrying or striving to control the grass (a pointless task!). Just relaxing, waiting for it to grow in its own sweet time and trusting that everything would unfold as it should.

Neither of these were true for me at the time, instead I was full of anxiety about the future. But I always felt that Basho was speaking across the centuaries to me, pointing out a better way to live.

I’ve been drawn to the haiku again recently as I talk to friends and coaching clients and think about my own life.

The idea of something happening, growing, reaching fruition in its own time and when the conditions are right. Of not knowing what the outcome will be, just letting life evolve and grow.

So often I’ve asked the question ‘now what should I do with my life?’ or ‘what should I do next?’ and expected an answer, fully formed and shiny, a new goal.

What happens when no goal appears, when I’m not sure what to do next? Can I allow my life to unfold naturally, following my interests and passions to see where they take me, without expectations?

My biologist self looks at the grass growing by itself and knows that it is only growing because of the coming together of the right conditions for grass to grow; warmth, sunlight, rain, suitable soil, the right numbers of grazing animals, strong roots that have survived the winter, viable grass seed.

So how can we create the right conditions in our own lives?

Sit quietly, do nothing. Or go for a walk, or whatever allows us the space and time to listen. We need the equivalent of sun, rain and sweet time to let us grow.

An idea nudges us in the quietness, whispers in a small voice ‘this is what I want’.

More ideas emerge, possibilities reveal themselves, action unfolds because it feels effortless, the right thing to do.

It takes faith and courage to let things evolve, to see where your path of life leads. Sometimes it can be a lonely road, it seems that not many others are taking it. But they are.

And eventually a goal emerges, a path appears in the undergrowth. There is a map and someone has been that way before. It might take some effort, risk and persistence to follow the path, but it feels right.

You just have to start walking through the grass, which is growing all by itself.

We will pay for it later

‘Isn’t this hot weather amazing’ I say.

‘We will pay for it later’ you reply,

as if nothing good can happen

without a bill being presented.

Sunshine now

means suffering ahead.

But what about all the storms

we’ve already weathered?

Don’t they count,

like money in the bank?

I am taking this hot summer,

banking little pieces of

happiness.

Memories to unfold later,

to be viewed through the glasses of age,

rose tinted or otherwise.

I will save up some of these rays

and let them warm my future self.

I will not live my life in debt,

with good times bought on credit.

Instead I will believe

that I deserve happiness now.

The geography of anxiety

We think we know the ‘why’ of anxiety,

Spiralling up from all those things we fear;

pressure; external and internal,

death, deadlines, illness, perfectionism,

unemployment, failure.

So many ‘whys’

But what about the ‘where’?

Where is it?

The geography of anxiety is within the body.

Our bodies become shaped for anxious feeling,

the hunch of a shoulder,

the jutting forward of a chin,

the clenching of a jaw,

the tightness of a belly,

the holding of a ribcage,

like contours on a map.

Anxiety roams this bodyscape,

energy in a landscape of tension.

It lives below awareness,

coming to the surface occasionally

like a fish, silently swimming, unobserved,

leaping suddenly to catch a mayfly.

We hold our bodies in preparation for an unwelcome guest,

trapping it’s energy within.

Not allowing the natural progression of emotion and energy

to ebb and flow and dissipate.

We hold ourselves tight within our armoured castles

in the mistaken belief that we are protecting ourselves,

until the anxiety spills out without a reason

in quiet moments and times that should be happy,

and we feel out of control,

scared of being scared.

Next time the storm arrives, let’s watch it, feel it

let it be the map.

Let it guide us to our tensions,

sherpa-like.

Focus on those sensations and they will pass.

Not easy, when caught in a whirlwind of worries,

and dread.

But worth it.

And eventually, over a lifetime maybe,

relax so the inner landscapes are so calm,

that anxiety can flow straight through

like a river of energy,

leaving us unperturbed.

Security and adventure

Here it is again,

that old familiar tension

between security and adventure,

a central dichotomy in my life.

For a while now I have clung to employment

like a life raft through turbulent seas,

rescued from joblessness,

begging not to be set down again.

But suddenly today

a lifting, a shifting

physically in shoulders and upper chest

a releasing and then

a new perspective arrives.

I dare to imagine again

the freedom of breaking from the nine to five,

boarding a plane to who knows where,

making money who knows how,

I dream, and work looks a little dull.

It’s back,

that old familiar tension

between security and adventure.

In the past I’ve see-sawed between the two,

now I want to learn to balance.

This is how it ends

Here, in this woodland,

a burial among the

emerging leaves

and birdsong,

reminding me that

life can be beautiful

and terrifying,

unfair and wonderful.

Don’t choose the winding path

of fear through life.

We all reach the same place,

eventually.

But lighter steps

and love

and kindness

make the journey easier.

This is how it ends

for us all,

surrounded by sorrow,

and love.

Everyday insights

Gripped by anxiety,

a looming hospital appointment,

I failed to notice the world outside

where the blackbird continued to sit on her nest in the rain,

and despite my unawareness

the symphony of spring carried on.

Then suddenly, I realized.

Anxiety again.

Welcome.

I don’t have to fight you any more

I just have to relax.

We are not separate,

you are not something to be held at bay

by techniques and force of mind.

You are a response to a situation,

my response.

Forgive me.

You have always been the frightened child

I pushed away.

Now you are welcome to rest here

until we both feel safe again.

A queen bee stopped on a flower, unnoticed,

unmoved by my revelation

as I wiped away a tear,

but I will remember.