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 an 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,

suddenly leaping 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 castle

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.

Peace is always waiting

A rushing kind of a day

Deep within the demands of work

Deadlines loom

So I concentrate

Focus

Get things done

And forget myself

Now it’s evening and

I peel myself away from the TV

Put on some music

Slow down into

Familiar movements

An hour later

I re-emerge

Relaxed

Refreshed

Calm

Reawoken to the truth

That if I slow down

Underneath the rush

Below the fear, the fuss, the resistance

Peace is always waiting

Stillness in movement

Can you find the stillness in movement?

Not by searching, but by the experience

Of becoming aware of your body

As you move through this world.

Not by trying, but by doing.

Progress through space,

Present within your body,

Aware of what is inside, and what is outside

And then do nothing but the movement;

Hiking, running, tai chi, yoga,

Or simply strolling leisurely through your day,

Washing the dishes, cleaning the house,

Even, perhaps, tapping at a keyboard.

At home within yourself.

Not striving, not searching,

Not analysing, not judging,

Not doing.

Just moving

Until you sense the stillness within.

Tension and relaxation

Tension is who you think you should be,

Relaxation is who you are.

So they say, and I would agree

And I have practiced being relaxed, and gone deep in that practice.

And yet….

And yet….

Despite knowing, in my body, in my mind

How good relaxation feels,

In my daily life tension still wins.

At work, behind a computer,

Trying to get things done, getting irritated by the little things,

Or worrying, or wondering why it’s just not all done better, or quicker.

My muscles tighten as my mind tightens.

This is the real me in so many moments of my life,

The me with tension.

And to relax requires an effort of will, a decision, a choice.

It’s a choice I fail to make, over and over again.

I’ve just come back from tai chi class

And I feel great

The feeling will carry over into tomorrow

Then it will gradually dissolve back into tension and forgetfulness

Using too much effort, and trying too hard.

One of these days I’ll make a different choice. 

Until then, tension is who I am, relaxation is who I am not allowing myself to be.

Sometimes I wonder, as I practice tai chi, 

Just why I keep going,

What I’m achieving

It is me, coming back to the choice between tension and relaxation.

Learning to choose relaxation in each moment,

So that one day I will truly be able to say

That relaxation is who I am.

A message to my younger self

Driving to work

Past fields and hedges and trees without leaves,

The distant fells of the Lake District,

A milky opalescent dawn sky,

And I feel so happy

And I think, if I could send a message

To my younger self

I would say

‘Relax

I know things don’t feel easy.

But it will all work out in the end.

Take it one step at a time, don’t worry so much.

Life still has its ups and downs,

But the view from here is worth it.’

A walk on Blawith Common

Weather and circumstance have conspired recently to keep my walks short

but today I was out for hours.

And now I am weary, that lovely tiredness of the body;

heavy limbs and aching muscles

thankful for a day outside

in the sun and frost.

Mind relaxed, soul nourished

by the long views of the fells and the sea,

clear blue skies and the orange glow of bracken.

Lungs full of fresh air,

I’ll sleep well tonight.

Air like water

Doing tai chi while imagining the air is like water, as if you are doing tai chi under water, is a way of deepening relaxation.  

Imagining, as I move, that the air feels like water.

My arms float, 

My body is supported.

If I concentrate, I can feel the air like water against my back.

My legs; heavy.

Movement becomes more deliberate,

The sense of the air like water surrounding me

Filling in behind me as I move forward.

I become aware of all of the surfaces of my arm as it moves into posture,

The movement of my arm through space.

I try to expand my awareness to my whole body,

To feel the air like water touching every part of me,

Don’t quite get there,

Still sensing my body as individual parts; hand, arm, leg, back.

This is my practice today;

Air like water.