From the Department of Context

As I reported two weeks ago, I have been feeling an increasing wobble in my flow. At first it was a bit of unsteadiness, then a few days when I felt extreme fatigue, and then the fear started.

As I wrote, I have stuck to my practices, those things which I know help to ground me and calm my body, such as yoga, and meditation, and long walks with Trixy the Dog. I have also reached out for support, checking in with my closest people by phone and text and in my Igroup.

What has unfolded has been both fascinating and deeply uncomfortable. Literally day by day my experience has shifted.

Monday I wake up in a cold sweat, teeth clenched, gripped by anxiety, mind racing with all the things I need to do, and all the things that are going wrong.

Then Tuesday, it’s the opposite. I feel clear, assured, and relaxed, confident that I can handle anything that comes up.

And then Wednesday, it’s back to the fear.

This pattern has continued very consistently for two weeks, which has given me a tremendous opportunity to observe the vicissitudes of my mind, heart, and spirit. It’s been like an experimental laboratory of Dave, with carefully controlled conditions.

To be sure, there are some objectively scary things happening all around me. We have medical issues in our extended family, and the terrifying fires in Sonoma have caused dear friends to evacuate and a toxic pall of smoke to settle over the Bay Area where we live. I have big responsibilities at work and not enough time or support to manage it all. The federal government is a mess, our car broke down, and so on and so on.

What has made this is a fascinating lab experiment is that these objective matters have changed very little from day to day, and yet my experience of anxiety/fear has varied wildly!

The first big takeaway is that it’s not actually the external things that are getting me. Of course, they contribute and may “trigger” me at times, but then how is it that I can wake up one day with the exact same data as the day before and yet feel so different?

Historically I would have said “it’s all in my head” meaning, it’s all in my mind. And this has some truth. Yet it’s also become clear to me that this is too simple, for no matter how hard I think about all this, I can’t seem to think myself out of being afraid.

As I wrote last time, it’s clear that much of it is in my body: my shoulders rise, my jaw tightens, my chest clenches. And yet it’s not all in my body either, because I can get a massage or take a hot shower and it helps, but doesn’t fix it.

It must be in my heart and spirit then, right? This is getting closer I think, but is still incomplete.

I recently became aware of the beautiful Japanese word kokoro, which means something like “heart/mind/spirit”, but not in the english usage of heart and mind and spirit. There are no Ands in the concept. Instead it is all One.

In general, Japanese language and culture tends to be “high context” meaning that the much can be understood from the context of a word or conversation, without spelling it out so specifically.

English is different from this, and tends to be “low-context” so that we tend to say a lot of words in order to be clear in our meaning.

For me this comes back again to gratitude as the medicine for anxiety.

When I try to zero in on my fear, to analyze it and break it down, to reduce it to its parts, I find that there is actually nothing there to be specifically afraid of, and yet, I am still afraid. I can’t think it away. This is the low-context approach.

And yet when I appreciate and gather the fullness of my life, my family, my health, my community, my safety, my experience of love and vigor and aliveness, then the fear becomes just a part of the context, and actually a small part of it.

Even in writing these words I can feel the fear abate, as I downgrade it from a headline on the front page to a small opinion column in the middle of the paper.

My fear is a passing storm and I am the sky.

To quote Whitman, I am large and I contain multitudes. When I welcome and befriend the weather, and place it in the larger context of the miracle of being alive, I can see the beauty and the value of it, and though it doesn’t go away completely, it fades enough that I can get on with my day.

How is your kokoro today??

Blessings to you all,

Dave Klaus

King Bee, Fire-Tender