Wednesday, January 24, 2018


I spent that whole day trying to make it go away. 

The chest tightness, the tears welling, the short breath. 

All day I followed my own advice.  I did what I have been taught and what I've been teaching.  Breathing deeply, calming the amygdala.  Trying to regain control of my nervous system.  Filling my nose with air, I tried to taste it as it left my mouth.  But nothing worked.

In fact, it climbed.

I convinced myself of a truth that I had no idea about.  And I became overwhelmingly uncomfortable in my own space.  I made myself sick.  A fear of missing out, a false sense of urgency.  My chest wall tightened and my skin was hot and I could feel every nerve-ending in every fingertip.  

I'm still surprised as I sit here and can breathe all the way into my lungs.  On the other side, I am still fascinated it's over. 

It's over, in part, because someone said this...

"Anna, you're having a hard time because you're trying to make these feelings stop."

I'm listening.

"You are having a hard time because you've convinced yourself that you shouldn't be feeling this way and you're trying to make these feelings go away.  But what you're going through is a hurricane.  And people don't make hurricanes go away.  They protect themselves from them.  Hunker down. Wait it out.  Step aside, let it through."

This particular friend is usually the friend who tells me to suck it up and quit being a wuss.  Man up, they usually say, you sound like you ain't been through shit before.

Instead, this time they said:

"You've never done this before.  The whole point is to mess up.  The whole point is to get through this shit you don't know how to get through so that you can get stronger.  So you can grow.  The point of life is to screw up some.  And really, it doesn't sound like you're screwing up that much at all.  You're still supposed to feel this shit."

Tears streamed down my face. 

 I realized how hard I had been trying to keep my composure. How my body needed some release, some relief, and I had just been trying to stay calm.  I was trying to make something go away, which really needed to run its course.  I was trying to outrun something I wasn't meant to outrun.  I was trying to escape something, which wasn't designed to be escaped.  

Later that night I sat down and read this: 

"I had completely clear insight that my whole personality... was based on not wanting to go to the groundless place.  Everything I did... it was all to avoid feeling this way.  

By learning to stay, it gradually loses its threat... 

We think that facing our demons is reliving some traumatic event or discovering for sure that we are worthless.  But in fact it is just abiding with the uneasy, disquieting sensation of nowhere to run and finding that -- guess what -- we don't die; we don't collapse.  In fact, we find profound relief and freedom." 

(Taking the Leap, Pema Chodron, p. 19)

Chodron recommends we practice what she calls the "pause".  

Which, I suppose, is not the same advice as hunkering down in a hurricane.  

But I think I understand the idea.  

The practice of pausing--ritualistically, intentionally--and bringing yourself to the present moment. Attending to whatever is true right now -- whether it's a  groundless or not.  The practice of mindfully extending kindness to yourself, exploring what it is you are feeling without judgment.  Without criticism.  

Sometimes, it turns out, I just need time.  And the pause allows for time.  The pause creates time.  A brief moment of grounding yourself, despite groundlessness, despite ego, despite attachment.

Maybe I've gotten it all wrong.  But this is what I understand it all to mean.

What I'm struggling with now is understanding how to manage my expectations without negotiating my way out of a dream.

How do I hope for a new job, the opportunity to move to a new city, a 4.0 for graduation, or for love, but also manage my expectations for those things?  Because it turns out, my knee-jerk response is to talk myself out of wanting it.  

To detach from hope by denying its worth to me.

How do we both want something and have realistic expectations for it?  Can we release attachments to these narratives and still hope for them?  Without punishing ourselves if we don't achieve what we are striving for?  Without shaming ourselves for the wanting?

I spent the majority of that day sifting through cognitive distortions and assigning myself the same homework I've been assigning my clients.  

I don't have the answers yet.  But it's the healthiest way I know to be.  

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