Unlike previous blogs, which I wrote with the reader in mind, this blog is written for me. If you would like to continue to read, please feel free. And if you feel that its contents may be useful for you, in coping with the fears that you are experiencing at this time in response to global, national, community-wide, and/or events that are personal to you (none of these are mutually exclusive, of course), I’m glad. But this blog is, for me, a form of “putting on one’s own oxygen mask first,” recognizing that if I am not taking care of myself, I am not going to be able to support others whom I need and want to support. I am going to write what I need to read, and remember, and practice.
First, I am going to name it. I AM AFRAID. I notice myself taking a deep breath, and letting out a looong exhale, the moment I type these words. I AM AFRAID. And I notice it again. As I drove to work this morning, trying to listen to commentary on last night’s presidential debate (which I turned off exactly 7 minutes into it because I was so overwhelmed by FEAR, although the emotion was not named at the time), I found myself shouting at the comments made by people attempting to objectively speak about political and economic perspectives. Their remarks seemed so irrelevant that they infuriated me. All I could focus on were imagined worst-case scenarios, where human rights are threatened and violated on an ever-increasing trajectory, where the ability to feel safe, to maintain a sense of trust, and to remain hopeful about the future is absent, and where I am so powerless and vulnerable that I am consumed by an existential crisis.
My heart is pounding. As I got deeper and deeper into the preceding paragraph, my FEAR grew stronger and stronger. I am currently experiencing FEAR. Again, noticing, recognizing, calling out that emotion, I notice a return to a more grounded place. Just noticing, being mindful of fear, rather than continuing to be caught up in the fear by trying to run away from it – by engaging in a debate in my mind (a slightly more civil version than the triggering event), shouting over the interviewees on the radio, trying to tell myself that “if only….”then worst case scenarios can’t possibly happen, or by imaging taking some action so that when the worst happens, I’ll be able to somehow morph into a superhero who can restore safety and hope. All of those things I do try to escape the fear – the behaviors and the “mental gymnastics – actually serve to fuel and intensify the fear
When I owned, and paid attention to my fear instead of continuing to focus on what triggered the fear, a significant shift began to occur. As I redirected my attention from the multitude of things over which I have no control, to the one thing that I actually have some control over, my actions, I felt myself regain a sense of safety and control. Starting with some basics, taking a few, deep, conscious breaths, reorienting myself to my physical surroundings, beginning to notice that my fear is no longer the dominant, overwhelming force that it was only moments before, and choosing something useful – to focus on (anything in the venn diagram where “what matters” and “what I can control” overlap.
During my commute, I went from feeling overwhelmed by fear to feeling calm and ready to proceed with my day, in a relatively short period of time. I know that all of the formal and informal mindfulness practice over the years served me well in a time of need. Undoubtably, I will have many opportunities to practice my response to fear over the weeks and months to come. Here it is again, just anticipating. FEAR. I take a breath….