Anxiety woke me abruptly at five o’clock this morning. The frantic voice in my head sounded my alarms, chanting, “You don’t have enough time to do everything!” My adrenals jumped into fight/flight mode, instantly waking me all the way up. But luckily, after 35 years as a body-centered therapist, I knew better than to stay focused on this all-too-familiar-chant. I quickly shifted into asking, “Where do I feel anxiety in my body?” It appeared as a tight knot in my belly. From years of experience, I sent five deep breaths directly into the center of the knot and watched it soften and dissolve into spacious peacefulness.
We cannot control which feelings visit us at any hour, day or night. But we can control how we respond through the Power of Conscious Choice. Though we were taught to run as fast as we can away from anxiety, fear, despair, sadness, loneliness and other “negative” feelings, we have choice. Since all the power is in the present, in this moment we can choose to respond differently.
We can stay lost in the “story” of our hurt or sadness for hours and days (even years)—or we can locate the feeling in our body, breathe directly into it and hold it in loving compassion. We can hide under the bed with fear, worry and anxiety—or we put breathing room around it by witnessing the feeling appear, visit us and disappear. We can stay consumed by the contraction and story that come with guilt thoughts for hours, or we can offer loving reassurance by remembering the truth: “I am conscious awareness noticing feelings visit me.”
In other words, we make conscious or unconscious choices moment-to-moment. When we unconsciously resist, run away or ignore feelings, fueling our resentment or guilt stories, they grow bigger and more powerful, eventually forcing us to stop and pay attention. But when we consciously shine our focused attention directly on feelings, even for a few seconds, they melt and disappear.
For example, Suzie stayed busy to postpone her feelings for years by working fulltime, parenting, meeting her husband’s every need and helping her neighbor—anything to avoid feeling her depression. But when she couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, and anti-depressants failed her, she came to therapy. “My twins started college and I’m retiring next year. But I’m terrified I’ll spend my life in bed, depressed, or do something horrible to end my misery….”
“Let me stop you, Suzie,” I interrupted. “Depression is the trump card of feelings. If we ignore our sadness, fear, hurt and shame long enough, depression stops us in our tracks. Would you be open to healing this for yourself?”
“Anything! I’ll try anything,” she blurted out.
I had Suzy lie down on a futon, close her eyes, and take several deep breaths.
“Now ask your body where you feel depressed inside,” I whispered.
“Right here, like a brick on my heart,” Suzie said as she patted her heart.
“Good. Now focus directly in the center of that heavy brick, take a big breath in your belly and imagine sending your exhale into the center of the heaviness.”
Tears trickled down her cheek. “I never grieved my twins leaving home.”
“Would you be willing now to feel how sad you feel about your girls leaving?”
Suzie nodded and wept a few minutes until her crying came to completion.
“I feel different,” she said as she stood up, “more alive and peaceful than I’ve felt in some years, as if a heavy weight has been lifted off my chest.”
More than lots of time, our feelings need attention and acknowledgement.
If we only have a few seconds while sitting at a red light or standing in the grocery line, we can pause to take three deep breaths and notice the fear story, worry thoughts or anxious tight belly inside.
If we squeeze two minutes out of our busy day, we can ask, “What would I love to hear right now while my loneliness or sadness is visiting again?”
If we have ten minutes, we can sit in our office chair or lie down on our bed, close our eyes and shine the power of our full attention to our current anxiety or hopelessness, locating it in our body, breathing into it and surrounding it with loving compassion. Every moment, whatever feeling is visiting, we have our new ally: the Power of Conscious Choice.
In those precious moments when we greet feelings with loving awareness and reassurance, worry and anxiety stop, fear stops, despair stops. And in the quiet stillness, we see with the loving eyes of our heart that we are not meant to control life. Life moves through us in its own timing, own changes, own wisdom. Our job is to witness it, grow to trust it, and meet it with loving acceptance.
Each morning, when I wake up at six or seven, I take ten deep breaths. Then I place both hands over my heart and repeat, “I love you, Carolyn, for whatever is true in your body in this moment. I love you for feeling tired, worried, scared or down. I love you for noticing back pain and for wishing the back pain would go away.” In other words I say, “yes” to what is and love myself exactly as I am.
Even though I have meditated daily for 30 years, I still do this. Why? Because we are all born with an unlimited capacity for joy, loving-kindness, compassion and inner peace.
The problem is, we grew up learning to look outside ourselves—to parents, teachers, elders, and older siblings—for all our love, approval, and acceptance. We can spend our whole lives hoping that somebody, someday, will find us worthy of love. As adults, the more desperately we look outside to parents, lovers, spouses, friends, children (even one-night stands), to prove that we are worthy of love and approval, the deeper that empty unlovable feeling grows inside.
The longer we postpone giving ourselves the loving acceptance and approval that lives right here, inside our wise heart, the more desperate we feel.
The solution is our innate Power of Fearless Love.
Fearless love sees disappointment, loss, even divorce as opportunities to love and accept every aspect of being human, reminding us to, “Love even this.” It throws out the welcome mat and holds worry, fear, despair and grief in loving compassion, whispering, “Don’t wait! Love yourself right now for feeling scared or down; and you’re safe to feel how sad you really feel inside.” It teaches us to trust our timing and our changes by saying “yes” to whatever arises.
When we listen to our wise heart, fearless love constantly reminds us that we are perfect just as we are. It watches feelings come and go without identifying with any anger or resentment story. It instills courage to hear our heart-felt longings and meet our human mistakes with “I forgive you.”
Tapping into Fearless Love begins by asking ourselves, “What would I love to hear right now?” and patiently listening for our wise heart to answer. When we feel pushed for time, fearless love reminds us, “You have plenty of time to do what you need to.” When we are reeling from a morning conflict with our spouse or teenager, fearless love jumps in with, “You are loved just as you are. Let it go.” When illness strikes, Fearless Love offers a breath of fresh air with, “We’ll make healthy choices for our body and heart today.”
Notice how you speak to yourself today when you feel hurt, upset, anxious, scared, angry or down. Just notice with a neutral tone, without judging yourself.
Starting tomorrow morning, before rising, take ten deep breaths, place both hands over your heart and ask, “If I could hear anything now, what do I secretly wish someone would say to me?” Breathe deep in your belly and patiently listen for the soft, quiet voice of your wise heart to bubble up from deep inside. Whisper this phrase to yourself five times (each repetition quiets that annoying skeptic inside). Whether your loving phrase is “I love myself for feeling scared,” “I understand me” or “I am safe and loved, even now,” feel free to repeat your loving phrase every morning for as long as it nurtures your body, heart and soul.
Throughout the day, whenever you think of it, ask, “What would I love to hear?” and repeat it to yourself. Telling yourself what you love to hear—and not waiting for a loved one who may be too preoccupied to think of it today—takes desperation out of the love equation. Once you see yourself as the fountain of fearless love that you are, you feel much less devastated when a loved one—lost in their own thoughts and habits—speaks words that trigger hurt or rejection.
The more you trust your inner wisdom, responding to anger (our own and others) with fearless love, you invite everyone around you to tap into the fearless love inside their wise heart.
Fearless love infuses us with that inner joy, freedom, happiness and inner peace we all long for everyday. Now we are free to give it to ourselves.
Carolyn Hobbs’ new book, FREE YOURSELF: Ten Life-Changing Powers of your Wise Heart, is available October 7th. Her website is www.carolyn-hobbs.com.