This afternoon, after doing a bit of work and making pesto from basil in the garden, I was washing up at the kitchen sink when a wave of anxiety hit. I felt myself brace at the familiar, unpleasant feeling. It’s been happening on and off for a while now. Out of nowhere, a low rumbling starts in my stomach and works its way to my chest, capturing my breath in its crafty claws.
As soon as I noticed myself starting to shut it down, I turned off the kitchen faucet and went to the living room to meditate. It’s a habit I’ve developed during the pandemic – welcoming in uncomfortable feelings rather than pushing them away and I’ll tell you why in a minute.
Sitting on the sofa, I practiced an exercise I learned from the book Breath I mentioned to you a couple of weeks ago. I took a slow breath in through my nose to the count of three, and then gently released it to a count of six. After several rounds, I felt myself relax and as I continued to breathe softly, a wave of sadness rose up from within me. I opened to that feeling as well, continuing to breathe and before long the sadness moved up and out of my body, leaving me feeling centered and a little more peaceful.
The key to having more energy and feeling empowered to handle life’s challenges is found in the practice of opening.
It takes courage to open to the pain of the world. Our natural tendency is to shut down as a form of self-protection. Every day there seems to be something new to insulate ourselves from - political power struggles, Facebook feuds, rising graphs and charts. Who wouldn’t want to swim in a pool of denial and distraction?
But shutting down steals energy. It leaves us feeling tired, hopeless, alone, and weighed down with stored pain.
While I seriously limit my exposure to the news, toxic conversations, and online broadcasting, I do my best to remain engaged with the world. I value my connection with others. I want to be helpful and comforting whenever possible. And I want access to experiences that evoke all of my feelings because that’s what makes life interesting and meaningful.
My open heart is a treasure. Yours is, too. The next time you feel yourself shutting down in reaction to anxiety, tough news, anger, or scary information, take a few slow deep breaths and imagine opening your heart. Keep opening. Breathe the feelings through you. Move them up and out. Trust yourself to handle the heartache and history that’s asking to be released.
In the last two months, I’ve found myself feeling grateful for so much in spite of the challenges we face – a sudden rain shower, a lemon-yellow goldfinch at the feeder, the beauty of a client’s vulnerability, or the respite of laughing with a friend.
All this because of learning to open to life.
Start slowly. Crawl before you walk. One breath at a time. Trust your open heart and let it lead the way…