ANXIETY and A Story About Turtles
A Turtle Story:
Last year I had the good fortune of spending a week in Mexico by
the sea and was introduced to turtle release. The local fishermen gather
the turtle eggs after they are laid in the sand to protect them from
predators. They are kept safe, in boxes in sand, for the incubation
period and then released to the ocean as they hatch. But not right into
the ocean. I listened carefully to the instructions:
Place each little turtle behind this line in the sand and watch them
dash to the water's edge. The line in the sand was the important part.
There was a festive atmosphere as onlookers cheered for their favorite.
Not all of them made it. I had an urge to "help" as some turtles
exhausted themselves short of the needed distance. The fact is they
needed to exert that much effort, go that far, to cultivate the needed
strength for their survival in the ocean. For them to avoid the
necessary passage would not be help at all.
Nature's wisdom has always been a template for me as I seek to
understand human suffering and struggle, satisfaction and well-being.
The turtles' task made a lasting impression upon me. As we encounter
the challenges of our particular life situation, we meet a demand, a
task, which offers us a new ocean to effort towards. As humans, fear is
a natural component as we find ourselves in new or uncomfortable
territory. Yet fear also calls forth resources that never were needed
before, and potentially builds new resilience, strength and wisdom. The
turtles' race to the sea excited me, as they called forth energy from
every cell, knowing what was needed for their life to unfold.
Fear, Anxiety, and Worry:
I recently came upon the Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety
by John P. Forsyth, Ph.D and Georg H. Eifert, Ph.D.
and found a welcome
addition to the ideas available for coping with fearful and anxious
states. Rather than another set of tools to cultivate, the authors offer
a new way to be in relationship to these uncomfortable states; from this
new stance practices and tools are more effective. For the sake of
simplicity I will be referring to the continuum from worry to panic as
Anxiety but please note that this approach applies to each particular
manifestation of fearful experience.
Fear as the Teacher, Not the Enemy:
An authentic life has pain and struggle. When the approach to managing
Anxiety is to avoid and escape from the uncomfortable feelings, this
often creates anxiety about the anxiety. Fear of another panic attack
can stimulate the very thing you are trying to avoid. What would it be
like to soften your attitude about having Anxiety? What if Anxiety,
though uncomfortable, is part of a process that will change into
something more manageable if we give up the struggle against it?
Underneath Anxiety may be some pain or concern, perhaps similar to
growing pains. Accepting the pain, the Anxiety, without judging it is
the softening that allows movement through it.
Anxiety is composed of thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. There
are many ways to be in relationship to these changing states. Skills
that work with controlling thoughts or working with breath to move
through Anxiety are very valuable. What I am suggesting here in terms of
an attitude shift is by bringing a kind and accepting response to
Anxiety, in contrast to an attitude of alarm and need to control and
fix, we open to a deeper and perhaps more sustainable plan to surf the
waves of discomfort more quickly and in a more lasting way. Meanwhile,
we are not waiting to have a satisfying life. We are building and living
our lives instead of first waiting for Anxiety to retreat.
Active vs. Passive Acceptance
Accepting your Anxiety is not at all about putting up with a limitation,
or giving up effort to be more at ease. In the struggle to change the
Anxiety, or a harsh dislike of it, we unknowingly keep ourselves stuck,
perhaps creating more worry, fear and rigidity. The ability to be with
Anxiety, breathing with it and inquiring into it, opens up inner
resources, not unlike the tiny turtles in touch with their survival
needs. They have a lot at stake! If I was scrambling on tiny legs across
a great expanse of endless sand to get somewhere I had no notion of, you
can bet I would be filled with Anxiety! These little teachers embody for
me how to keep taking the next steps in our lives, trusting in the
process, and using every ounce of available energy to be fully alive and
active in that quest.
For more information about this model, including practices and exercises
for inquiry, you might want to visit their website: