Anxiety and Love

My yoga teacher and I are very good friends – deep soul friends. Two years ago, when she opened a studio in her beautiful new home and began teaching there I made the secret pledge to show up for every single class so she’d  never have an empty studio.

At first I was the only student – or one of two or three. Now, her classes are bursting and full. They are, as they were on the very first day, pools of wonder and peace.

My yoga teacher is a guru poet of love. She stands in front of the class in her hot pink tie-dye tee shirt with a multi-layered heart at the center of her chest reciting the poems of Rumi, David Whyte and contemplating love.

This is about a lesson she gave to me:

She was talking about anxiety – concerned about her parents – both in their 80s, living alone, hundreds of miles away. She’d received a phone call that had left her shaken and anxious. Her mother, sounding small and frightened, had called to tell her, “Your father seems to have oral cancer. Advanced oral cancer. I think this is serious.”

My teacher responded with outrage – how could her father have developed advanced cancer? Where was the dentist who let this happen? Had he even GONE to the dentist? Her mother’s response to these questions was, defensiveness, then confusion and tears. Of course, my teacher realized, shifting instantly to gentleness and soothing. But as she hung up the phone, she felt anything but soothed herself.

After a long night of worried dreams, she woke more agitated than ever. Concern for her parents sitting at the edge of her awareness, she prepared breakfast and packed her daughter off to school. Then, she came down to the yoga studio and sat down. There, emotions swirling, she closed her eyes.

How can I teach today with all of this going on? she asked.
All of what going on? a quiet inner voice asked. What is really happening? And what am I feeling?

She began to look:
What is really happening?
 My father has cancer. My mother is upset. They live far away. The cancer will complicate their lives – and mine. It could involve hospital stays – surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, suffering. We could lose him.

What am I feeling?
Anxiety. Yes, but how does that feel, this thing that I’m calling anxiety? I don’t know, was her first response. I am so busy pushing it away that I don’t really know how it feels. Electric. Dangerous. Terrifying.

Yes, go deeper.

She went deeper. She sat inside of the anxiety. “I let it have me,” she told us.

She let it have her. She sat and let herself feel the cold creep, the ice-fingered touch as anxiety crawled down her spine and into her legs. She let anxiety crawl up to her armpits and spread into her arms. She let it have her, let it take her.

Which is when the most remarkable thing happened: she grew curious, interested. She engaged with the anxiety – and the moment that happened, she was no longer anxiety’s victim. Instead, she was in a relationship with it. Anxiety had her and she, in turn, had it.

As she felt into the anxiety, letting her awareness reach out and explore its contours and folds, examining its texture, its color, its temperature, she felt herself relax. “I see you,” she told anxiety, for the first time in her life; and that’s when my yoga teacher realized, “I know what this is – I have felt this before. Anxiety is love.”

Curiosity is the most remarkable gift. It re-animates the soul. It awakens awareness. It allows us to slice through terror and upset and emotion with the saber of consciousness, right down to the bone, which is where we discover that beneath anxiety, and every other negative emotion that we feel, there is love and the fear that if we allow ourselves to feel that love, it will break our hearts.

A Course in Miracles teaches that there are only two emotions. There is love – a spectrum of positive emotion which includes, at its gentlest, devotion – a mother reading her precious child to sleep, a nine-year-old cradling a beloved pet, a father, standing in the doorway and watching this. Devotion. At its other end there is joy: a fire hydrants open on full blast love that is generous and wild. A heart wide open, radiant “YES!” and a soul-drenching gratitude for the incredible gift of simply being alive.

The second emotion, A Course in Miracles teaches, is fear. Which feels, as we are in it, like lack of love (but it isn’t.) The Buddha would call this ‘suffering.’ This may surprise you. You may have thought the opposite of love was hate or rage or, even, anger. But these are only inside out love – shadow love, love turned in on itself when life surprises us with suffering.

Which is where this story began, with suffering: advanced oral cancer, outrage, confusion and fear and, my yoga teacher’s anxiety. This story began with suffering.

At its most concentrated, suffering arrives as sharp pain, sheer terror – at the edge of the abyss, as we face down a life-threatening illness or injury – but there are many grades of suffering. There is sorrow, when we learn, as my sister did, two days ago, that a dear one is suddenly gone. There is anxiety – the insidious, just-under-the-surface dread that sours life, and steals the color and joy from every experience.

Anxiety is a terrorist, lurking around every corner, pouncing on every joy. I know. I grew up this way. I didn’t even know it was there until recently. For years, I prided myself on my ability to rise above any situation. But my cool exterior was a mask. My “Everything’s fine” and reassuring smile was an empty, joyless smile; a smile that was really a shrug. An ‘Oh, well,’ sort of smile that hid, at its center, a sigh of exhaustion. It was overwhelming trying to hold the world together all by myself.

In the offices of many therapists and healers – and the several dozen marble composition books – through which I chased the elusive tail of joy, I discovered that my childhood experience  - which felt as if I lived in a house of fog; as if each member of my family were wrapped in lambs wool – was not carefree, and, though, these days, anxiety is becoming (alarmingly)  ‘normal’ – it was not healthy.

When I first began to really, truly feel my life, a rush of feeling came in. Feeling itself felt overwhelming at first.

No wonder I feel anxious all the time, I realized: I am constantly trying to keep the door shut to feeling. So, when that door began to open, the first feeling through it was terror – and kamikaze attacks of sobbing. I’d be sitting in an editorial meeting at work feeling perfectly fine and suddenly, I’d burst into tears.

“What’s wrong?” my colleagues would ask. (Of course they asked!  Who would not ask?)
“I have no idea!” I’d manage to gasp out between wrenching sobs.

What was wrong? I feared I was losing my mind. It’s only in hindsight that I can begin to understand, by observing the stages of feeling through which I passed: the heart-searing grief at the way I’d kept myself separate and the opportunities I’d missed – each time I could have played, laughed, loved, with my children, my husband, my sisters and friends – but kept myself apart, once-removed, disconnected.

I saw the way that I’d blamed others for judging me, for holding me behind a kind of emotional wall when it was I who’d held myself there, and I who was judging them. I saw, also, how my fear of intimacy (of feeling) had made it impossible for me to relate in a straightforward, honest way to teachers, employers or anyone in authority. Instead, I envied, I sneaked around. I cut corners at work (and at home). I stole money from my parents wallets and later, from my husband’s bank account – and if I was discovered, I blamed them. “You aren’t generous enough! You make me feel like a beggar!”

All of this was the result of that second emotion: fear and its brute squad: shame, dread and anxiety. The inner terrorists.

That day, as my yoga teacher was telling her story, I was just beginning to understand my own. I’d been able to see it  but I knew I was missing something – some critical piece of the architecture of the soul which I had not yet been able to snap into place until there, on my yoga mat, I found it: Anxiety is love; twisted, thwarted desperate love.

A few days later, while caring for my mother, I had a chance to work with this new understanding – and finally pop that puzzle piece into place. Here’s how it works:

Mom clutches her belly and moans in pain. My body tenses. Anxiety arrives.

What is really happening?
My mother is suffering. I am the only one here. No one has been able to explain the stomach pains that plague her constantly. She has had every test, every scope and cat scan and blood scan. The pain is a phantom, eating her from the inside out.

What do I feel?
Concerned. Powerless. There is nothing I can do to help her – believe me, I and the whole cast and crew that supports her now have tried. I feel annoyed: Why is she making such a fuss? Does she, perhaps exaggerate her suffering to win our sympathy? Does she use it to manipulate us?

Yes, yes, yes.

But suddenly, here at the bottom of all of this I see it, I feel it: love.
My mother is suffering. I love her. That’s what’s here. That’s what’s true.

My mother lays down on the sofa. I tuck the blanket around her toes.
Her eyes flutter and close. Her breathing deepens. Love floods into my heart. Real love. True love. Devotion. Joy.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie

I have been going out of my mind with anxiety and worry about a family situation recently. Thank you for this. I think it may just help me.

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Amy

Thank you for reading it – and for letting me know you were here. :)

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Marthe

Just one word.

Powerful.

This post is the kind of post that I’m going to print. I want to keep it close to me, as a reminder.

This post hit me incredibly hard, as I’m in the process of working through my emotions with a therapist. Apparently I’m emotionally unstable. And I don’t even think I know what emotions are, as I’ve been pushing them away for a decade.

Thank you.

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Amy

You’re welcome. As you wrestle, may I share something that helped me come to real feeling for the first time in my life? It was such a simple thing: when you find yourself saying, ‘I don’t even think I know what emotions are,’ simply ask, Who is noticing this? Who is the “I” in that sentence? This helped me make contact with the deeper self, the “I Am” that lives at the center of the whirl of thoughts and emotions – a quiet sanctuary of true self (otherwise known as the soul). The I Am/Soul is shy but it shows itself in moments like this, when we realize something like “I am not feeling my life.” That realization is the voice of the I Am, quietly, determinedly, lovingly getting our attention.

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Elizabeth - Letters from a Small State

Anxiety is on my mind a great deal lately. I wrote about it on my blog recently… did you read it? I feel like we are suffering from it culturally. So this post is like reading the next chapter. Thank you. And I’m sorry for your mother’s pain. Our stomach holds our fear.

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Amy

Yes, our stomach holds our fear (and our anxiety) – and I agree that we are suffering from cultural anxiety. I went to read your post, which was excellent – really truly. Thank you for sending me there. Powerful work.

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Betsy

Thank you. Thank for sharing such a beautiful, lovely and brave post.

Anxiety’s a funny bird, how it robs you of feeling is perhaps its greatest weapon. But then again, when I feel, I truly feel, and the world opens up and I am so grateful, thankful just to be there in the moment. Feeling. Trusting. Loving.

Perhaps maybe by looking at it as love gone awry, I (we?) can get a few steps up on it, and feel more and more and more- thanks for sharing another tool (and one of love!) that I can add to my anxiety fighting bag of tricks.

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Amy

It’s like a dance, isn’t it? We feel nothing – we work to open to feeling. The feeling rushes in and overwhelms us. We grow anxious. We shut down. But feeling comes, little by little. I’m getting used to feeling. I like it. Thank you for your comment, by the way. :)

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Patti Foy | Lightspirited Being

Amazing article. You are so good at putting these deep, tangible feelings and epiphanies into words. And for pointing out that anxiety that is so there so often we don’t even notice it anymore.
I find that when I “let it have me”, I also find “me” at the bottom of it all. Safe and sound.
Thank you so much.

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Shuli

This is beautiful Amy, it resonated with me… made me think of my mother and how I relate to her (of course)
thank you for sharing
Shuli

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Ellen Berg

You have no idea what a blessing this post is for me today. As someone who has dealt with anxiety for most of my life, I could see myself in your description of anxiety as a tool to keep us from feeling and connecting.

In my journey, I have come to see anxiety as a gift. It’s a sign from my body to pay attention, to engage, to stop being mindless and numb and take a look at what’s in front of me instead of retreating from what is. Once I stopped fighting anxiety and welcomed it in, it not only dissipated, it taught me to be more mindful.

But I hadn’t recognized it as love. Until today that is. Thank you.

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Amy

Isn’t it extraordinary? When viewed this way, the thing that has plagued me becomes a priceless gift.

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vicki

thank you :)

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Stacey

Thank you for sharing. This was very enlightening. A lesson that can be shared with myself and those I encounter on a daily basis.

Blessed,
Stacey

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denise

Wow. Holy insights. I think I have to go back up and reread this so I can absorb more of its truth and beauty. Thank you.

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Quinn W

Amy,
I am so happy to come across you today from a random retweet floating through the ether of the inner-web. Your writing cuts straight through me like your own light saber of consciousness, illuminating past hurts and present musings. I’m happy to be walking the path of Love with you, and excited to read more.

Best,
Quinn

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Amy

Isn’t it remarkable the way that we find each other? I am so grateful for your presence here, and for your lovely comment. Welcome.

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Lisa@Practically Intuitive

Beautiful – I am in awe of your writing and your ability to put those amorphous feelings into words.

I’m struggling with fear of leaving my day job (and a steady paycheck) to fly on my own as an intuitive. I’ve been busy pushing that fear away and this is the second nudge from the loving Universe (first one last night in a conversation with someone) to bring it out and sit with the fear.

And so I listen.

Thank you.

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Susan T. Blake

Hi Amy,

I’m late coming to this post, as I came back to start at the beginning of the wisdom series (I came in at the middle). This post had two effects on me: The first, I was stopped by the reference to curiosity:

“And then, the most remarkable thing happened: she grew curious. Out of that curiosity, interest bloomed. She grew interested in the anxiety, engaged with it – and the moment that happened, she was no longer anxiety’s victim. She was engaged in a relationship with anxiety: it had her and she, in turn, had it.

“Curiosity is the most remarkable gift. It re-animates the soul. It awakens awareness. It allows us to slice through terror and upset and emotion with the saber of consciousness – and get to the bone.”

From there so many things went through my head that even as I was thinking, “Wait, stop, I have to write that down,” it was gone. I will have to re-read this a couple of times, I think.

’til later,

Susan

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Amy

Thank you for this comment. So glad you came in late – and stayed.

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Angel

I don’t know how I came to the site. Anyways, this post simply blows my mind!
I’ve had a hard time with looking for a job, with finding my strength, with clearing out some sort of anxiety “caused by others.” Well, I know it is not caused by others, but by my own heart. I hate that people give me hope at first then turn me down. I am anxious. I want peace, in my heart, dearly.
Thank you for your wise word.

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Karen

Wow, this post pulled me out of a really tough spot last week. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you. I put you in my blog, into a gorgeous ‘love sandwich’: http://www.gooseinthebottle.blogspot.com

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Kristine

A tough unfeathered bird, anxiety. But who took the time to pluck…and pluck is such a mighty word. A funny word, like stuck and muck. The down, useful perhaps in lining a box, the quill in writing a tomb. Once you get past the plucking.

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Rebecca

Thank you so much for this. I have been feeling so much anxiety with taking care of my Mother since my Dad passed away three years ago. My Mother suffers from several complications from strokes and memory lost. At times, the anxiety builds up so much and it is because I can do nothing but make her as comfortable and loved as possible. Your blog has placed a new perspective on why I feel this way.. Thank you again… Love Love Love

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Warren Vail, DC

Thank you Amy! I just found you on Twitter and read this. I found this piece very helpful for my understanding my “Cuddle Buddy Plus” and her anxiety. It also helped me with my mother’s recent news of more cancer than was expected following surgery.

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lorraine

I have just now become aware of you , and reading this I am happy , I am happy as one who has lived with anxiety for a very long time to feel the deeper currents of it that it is Love , that all this time that I have felt like I was excluded out of love . I know this to be true now reading this , I feel so much Love and always , have always !!!! I just feel so much … thankyou for sharing this

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Diana

You and I have had talks about this subject and in my mind, when I think anxiety, I have you in my mental picture, using calming words to help me bridge my anxious visions. This is a marvelous post. It brings to mind all of what I know to be true about anxiety and gives it a slightly different context. I hope we can talk about it – again – soon. Much love.

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Amy

Of course we can. I would love that!!

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Trisha

Here I am, almost two years later after the original posting, and finding words of comfort that have been said in similar fashion to me – let the pain pass through until it no longer owns you.

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Naike

DEEP! Thank you for THIS, Amy. I read you CRYSTAL. Reminds of our one-and-one.

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Amy
Kim

Thank you Amy for this mesmerizing, honest, and remarkable piece of writing. To me, it exemplifies what it means to live a contemplative life. I too often suffer anxiety and am beginning to discover the tremendous value of curiosity.

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