Thursday, July 28, 2011

Flow vs. Clench

Flow vs. Clench

“Flow” defined:  to move along in a stream; to circulate; to well forth; to issue from a source; to proceed continuously and smoothly . . .

“Clench” defined:  to close tightly; grip; to grasp firmly; to knot up.

Examples of flow:  breath is long, slow, nurturing, conscious.  It’s felt deeply in the belly.

Examples of clench:  breath is short, quick, without thought.  It’s trying to survive.

Flow . . . softening.  Striving for nothing.  Rejecting nothing.

Clench . . . trying or expending effort.  Attempting to stay ahead of one’s self.  Defending against what might be coming next.  Trying to figure things out before they happen.  Hoping to stay “safe” by staying ahead.

Even the judgment that flow is better than clench is a form of clenching.  We learn through the experience of contrast.  It is impossible to know or understand light without experiencing darkness, happiness without sadness, flowing without clenching.

Is it possible to simply notice?  Notice the shortness of breath and then choose to deepen the next inhale without making up a story about it, notice the tension in the body and choose relaxation. 

Sometimes the noticing is followed by a judgment:  “Oh my God, I’m barely even breathing and my shoulders are so knotted up and I’ve been lost in my thoughts and criticisms all day.”  Which in turn is followed by a judgment of the judgment:  “That’s not being very accepting or living in the moment.  I don’t even know what that means.  I don’t even know how to breathe right or to trust.  And God knows what ‘surrender’ is.  Maybe other people don’t have as many responsibilities as I do.  I’ll never get this right.” 

On and on.  We create layers upon layers of harshness where flow and presence are hard to imagine, much less experience.

Remember every moment is new.  It’s a chance to begin again.  It’s an opportunity for softening – striving for nothing, resisting nothing, proceeding forth from a source, moving along in a stream.  Deep, slow, conscious breaths come and nurture one.  They allow the mind-body to relax and find peace.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Making Friends with Anxiety

Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.
                                                Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was sitting on a plane recently, on my way home from a pleasant vacation. I relaxed and may have even dozed off for awhile. Interesting. A few years ago, relaxing on an airplane would not have been a possibility. Just the thought of getting on a plane would start that constricted feeling in my chest and make my heart beat too fast.  And it wasn’t just planes: long car rides, crowded theaters. . . any place where I felt I couldn’t make a quick escape could send me into a panic.

Panic attacks. They start with a small tightness in my chest, and the feeling grows and grows. Can’t breathe. About to lose all control over my bodily functions. May cause a scene, screaming to escape wherever I am. May die.

For awhile I decided that the best way to avoid anxiety was to avoid any situation where it could be an issue – a very limiting way to live. I started gathering information about anxiety and started asking questions. Why has this phenomena appeared in my life? What is anxiety trying to tell me? Looking back, I probably have to thank anxiety for starting me out on a spiritual path. Anxiety was an invitation (a demand?) to take a look at my life and decide if I liked what I was seeing.

Years ago, my hope was to STOP the anxiety from ever happening again. It hasn’t happened that way for me.  In certain situations, I still feel that familiar tightness begin, but instead of pushing the feeling away, I welcome my old friend. I thank anxiety for letting me know I’m in an unfamiliar, potentially “dangerous” situation. I breathe and bring myself to the present moment.

Years ago, the suggestion that I welcome anxiety would have made me very angry. All the books I read had similar suggestions: when a panic attack begins, just ride it out and soon you’ll be on the other side of it.  Even better, when the panic begins, say “Yes!” and try to bring it on. Obviously, I thought, those authors had never experienced the hell that I had.

But they were right! It’s very hard to make yourself have an anxiety attack. Panic seems to get stronger the more you push it away – and weakens by being invited in and welcomed.

Every now and then, I still feel that old familiar tightness, and I ask Anxiety how big it needs to get. I breathe and pay attention. The tightness subsides and I relax.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Butterfly Power

Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does.
                                                                        William James

Each year, my cousin participates in organizing a project for “Make a Difference Day.” I remember one year when they decided on an environmental project aimed at restoring mangroves along the Florida coastline and removing pepper trees which had invaded the coastline creating unfavorable conditions for the native plants and animals. Over 300 people of all ages were involved in the project. Not only did they begin the transformation and restoration of a beautiful area for plants and other wildlife, but they also created a strong sense of community and belonging.

On a MUCH smaller scale, at a restaurant one morning for breakfast, I noticed that the waitress was having a hard day and working especially hard. I felt that I was able to connect with her briefly, hear her story and thank her sincerely.

Edward Lorenz, considered one of the founders of chaos theory, was a meteorologist who was testing a model of weather prediction. In taking a mathematical shortcut, he discovered that a tiny change in the formula drastically affected the outcome. He posed the question of whether the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas.

How interconnected is each aspect of the universe? Do our actions, words and thoughts impact the world around us? Lorenz discovered that “although humans dream of the power of prediction and control. . . in nature, society and our daily lives, chaos rules through the butterfly’s power.”

Oftentimes in day-to-day life, we can feel pretty insignificant. It can be hard to imagine that our actions have much impact. We sometimes feel isolated and simply focus on our individual responsibilities and let the rest take care of itself. The idea that I can “flap my wings” and create ripple effects extending far beyond me is both exciting – and a little scary. I feel a sense of responsibility and connection to the world around me.

“The social sum total of everybody’s little everyday efforts, especially when added together, doubtless releases far more energy into the world than do rare heroic feats.” Robert Musil.

I am awed by those individuals, like my cousin, who manage ‘heroic feats’, whose efforts positively impact the earth and so many individuals. It’s exciting to hear about and imagine the positive ripples. I’m also aware of the almost imperceptible stirring I cause when I ‘flap my wings’ consciously.