For me, anxiety feels like gripping life like it is a rope. I’m desperately in a tug of war with phenomena and circumstance. I seem to be pulling this way and that, but on the end the rope a barge is anchored in harbor. I can’t win against that barge. I can’t force it to go in my direction or in any other direction, for that matter.
Oh yes, life feels like a giant barge. Standing on the dock, I can’t see the sunset, because the barge is blocking the view. In this analogy, the sunset is my future. It’s the barge’s destination, but I don’t know what it looks like or the direction the barge will take. Too often, I feel like an observer or at best the sailor in the tug-of-war analogy. I need a better way to interface with the ship than the flimsy rope on the dock, known as anxiety.
How does the sailor on the dock find the future? The sailor can climb aboard and join the crew. Maybe some days, he will stand at the wheel and steer the rudder. On other days, the sailor is cleaning latrines or on kitchen duty. There’s engine maintenance to be done, courses to be mapped and navigated, first mates to lead the others. The truth is that the sailor only has one role at a time and he has to have faith in the other crew members to do their part.
It’s a profound analogy, but one that is difficult for me to make ascent upon. I know too often, instead of joining the crew, I am that silly person tugging on a rope at the dock.
“Why won’t life just go my way?!?!” I scream at the top of my lungs. I see the clear blue sky in the opposite direction of the sunset. It looks easy, clear and free.
“Come on, go this way!” I say through gritted teeth, tugging on the rope trying to move a barge, my feet walking steps in place. There is no progress.
Finally, and this usually parallels with an anxiety attack, I let go of the rope, fall to my knees and sob. Why is life so hard? All of the things – the size of the barge, the burns on my hand from tugging, the dissipating light – they are overwhelming and eclipsing.
Yet, this is part of the process, because, now, I have finally let go of the rope. I’m no longer distracted by my efforts and their futility. Now, from my collapsed position, I can hear a dinging bell calling the ship mates to duty or perhaps I notice the outer edges of that beautiful sunset. I climb aboard the ship to a flurry of activity, persons running in various directions, orders being hollered above the din. The sun and the clouds and the horizon achingly beautiful before me. I hug myself, shielding against the sea winds whipping about me. Looking in all directions, I watch until I see something I can do, some way to contribute. Moving one foot in front of the other, I pick up a task and work at it for a time. Suddenly, a lurch throws me off balance as the barge’s engines overpower inertia. It was so hard to get going, but now things are actually moving!
The beauty of inertia is that, while an object at rest stays at rest, an object in motion stays in motion. There will, of course, be an acting outside motion, perhaps many, with which to contend eventually. Just as in life there are always outside factors contending and stopping us.
But for today, I think I’ll put down my rope and stop tugging so hard. Join the crew.
In real life, letting go of the rope looks like stillness and cleansing breaths, closing my eyes and imagining all of the worries in my heads slipping away, not into chaos, but into the hands of others. Today, for me, perhaps “The Others” are a deity/God.
On others, I just imagine there is Karma. For there is a cycle that my soul knows, recognizes deep down. The cycle is that the things which I fear are never as terrifying after they have happened, if they even happen at all. The catastrophe I create in my mind is not as devastating in person, face-to-face. Yet, perhaps more than any of that, my mind can be a friend, a capable entity, equipped to handle the future once it actually arrives and powerful enough to stand still and observe the present.
If I only let go of the rope…