Anxiety descends like a fog. Literally, a fog of heavy weight, causing an inability to see further than a few inches ahead; an inability to breathe with ease and comfort. Anxiety from fear. Anxiety from looking forward into the unknown and anticipating. I felt this weight, this fog, during these past 10 days of quarantine, of unknown and invisible concerns. I felt this anxiety, this fearful anticipation, off and on throughout these days. As I started to notice when it arose, I could feel the weight of it on my body, the fog of it creating restless uncertainty in my mind and spirit.
Is this all I’m left with in times like these — times when certainly anxiety, fear, and restlessness are natural emotions? I do not believe this is my only choice, for I hear in this time something else. In moments when I return to embodying my physical body and soften into hope, there is an invitation I hear. It sounds like an invitation toward undoing something that hasn’t been working. An invitation toward more presence. An invitation toward global compassion, love, connection. An invitation toward hope.
Why, I ask myself, does it take something as monumental as a worldwide quarantine to make me hear this invitation? I do not know why I choose not to listen to the subtle, quiet reminders that surely arise during times of relative “normalcy.” Richard Rohr, Franciscan friar and founder of The Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, expressed this past week that transformation comes through great love and great suffering. This transformation is a unifying connection to what both the Yogic tradition and the Christian tradition call the true self, the self that rests in connection with God, or the unifying principle of the world. He wrote that the human soul comes to connection with God through these two ways:
“through great love or great suffering. Both finally come down to great suffering, because if we love anything greatly, we will eventually suffer for it…to love anything in depth and over the long term, we eventually suffer.”
He goes on to write of the times of suffering as times of initiation into what matters most and what lasts, a rite of passage of sorts into deeper meaning:
“Initiation was always, in some form, an experience of the tension and harmony of opposites: of loss and renewal, darkness and light, the cycle of seasons, death and resurrection, yin and yang, the paschal mystery. Somehow initiates had to see the wide screen and, at least for a moment, find goodness and meaning in what was offered right in front of them, which is all we can love anyway. Universally, early cultures insisted on large doses of separation, silence, looking, listening, and various kinds of suffering.”
So I listen for the invitation toward transformation. Perhaps there is an initiation toward a more meaningful existence lying within, an initiation I will miss if I keep trying to do things as I’ve done in past days rather than be present with this day right now. It is all I ever have anyway. As novelist Storm Jameson wrote, “There is only one minute in which you are alive — this minute here and now. There is only way to live — by accepting each minute as an unrepeatable miracle.” I believe this means I must be willing to suffer along with the world — to hold the hands of anxiety and confusion together, but also the hand of hope, and walk forward into this suffering world believing what hope reveals is that this and every uncertain situation is an opportunity to bring out the most connected, present me. If I do not let fear be the only voice I hear, perhaps this uncertain situation reveals something that needs to be healed and renewed, something that can be improved. Amid the voices of anxiety, the voices that fearfully anticipate, the voices of hope and of compassionate love whisper more quietly. I have to soften my whole body to hear that voice. I have to get still and reembody myself and embody the moment in present time.
Friends, when anxiety and fear threaten to take you down, place your hand on your heart and feel this one breath as it moves in present time in and then out of your body. That is real.
Ask yourself, “what is real right now?” and then become aware of exactly what is. Where are your feet and what are they touching? What do you hear right at this unrepeatable minute? What do you smell? Look around and allow your eyes to take in your surroundings, the realness of sight, and see if you can rest your eyes on one small treasure, something beautifully present now. Then breathe again and feel the air enter you as an unrepeatable breath, present right now.
Your body is a brilliant teacher. It is always present in real time. The mind, such a trickster, can take you into past and future in the blink of a half second. Stay with your body a little longer and embody this unrepeatable miracle of a moment in time. This is how I’m relearning my days. The truth is I have never known what the next minute holds, what complications and difficulties might arise. But what this means is that I also do not know, and have never known, also what miracles and possibilities might come. For now, for today, I am keeping my hand close to my heart, ready to place it there each time I spin forward into agonizing over what might be or each time I fall to self-pity as if I suffer alone. I hold my hand steady right at my heart and feel the breath, come back to my body and the moment, real as it is, and I remember, I am not alone. I never was. Sometimes it takes a giant initiating moment to remember that simple, eternal truth. Whatever comes tomorrow, I hope this is the truth, the transformation, that is remembered.