When you think of anxiety you don’t usually think of freedom. But I’m going to share a secret: the biggest freedom you can have is the ability tofeel anxiety.
I know, it sounds crazy, right? But I promise you that’s true.
Some people believe the biggest freedom would be to never ever feel anxiety. If that were true and you never felt sympathetic nervous system arousal you would not be a truly alive and sensing human. As a matter of fact psychopaths (those folks who have no conscience and no empathy) have remarkably low levels of anxiety, and that is not a good thing… When people say to me they are waiting for the day they will feel no anxiety, I tell them (unless they are novocained from the neck down) they will experience the sensations of vulnerability in their bodies until the day they die…
The bodily experience of vulnerability is normal, human and healthy. It is actually the most powerful tool we have to promote our personal growth, as long as we know what to do with it.
The key is we need to be able to notice, tolerate and really feel what our body feels like when we are anxious. We need to stay out of the “story” we make up, all the future “what if’s” and imagined scenarios, and all the backward looking stories of “woulda shoulda coulda”. Importantly, we need to bring a precise and slow awareness to our inner experience of muscle tension and arousal. We need to carefully (with care in our hearts) stay with ourselves and sense the quality and intensity and parameters of the tension, being willing to really feel what it feels like in this moment of uncertainty, this moment of “I can’t”, this moment of limits to control over an outcome that matters to me.
This is such a simple thing, yet it is so very hard to do. We are primed to move away from this experience of tightness and agitation. There is an urge to disconnect from what we feel at that moment. At a level that is below our conscious awareness it just seems like the right thing to do and we typically simply obey the impulse. Like sleepwalkers we avoid our inner experience and tune out of ourselves. We avoid in a myriad of ways: eating, drinking, shopping, busying, controlling, worrying, and distracting ourselves, slaves to an impulse we didn’t even recognize.
That’s where freedom comes in. When we can notice the signal from the body that tells us we are vulnerable, if we can become expert at knowing our own unique phone call (tight shoulders, fidgety fingers, held breath, clenched butt, tapping feet) as the body asks for our attention, we have a choice. The big choice that leads to freedom. The choice to approach ourselves right then and there in that precise moment and be with ourselves in the discomfort. It is the choice of love. Or we can avoid ourselves in that moment, which is the choice of fear. And if we chose fear and avoidance we are not free. We are busy and numb and fretful and distracted and sometimes very productive… but we are not free.
Freedom is the ability to be with ourselves in the discomfort of what is. Rather than fight with what is, rather than trying to fix it or change it or shut it down or shame it or run away from it, freedom is saying hello to what is actually happening in your skin. Freedom is being able to feel what we are feeling and not catastrophize it with a story, and not escape from it with a behavior, and not avoid it in all the many ways we have to leave ourselves.
At the end of the day, the only thing that stops us from living our biggest life is our prediction that we cannot manage what taking that step would feel like. It is our fear of the feeling of it. In practicing feeling your feelings in your body you liberate yourself to take brave steps forward into all that is uncertain, new, desired and not yet yours.
Take a breath right now and feel your inner experience of you. Open yourself to really feel what does not feel good and let yourself make the choice to stay with you. It is only a feeling and your body needs to know you are there with it. Your attention is the medicine, letting your body know you are safe.
And then, as your body recognizes you and settles, you are free.
Photo Credit: D Beder Photography