“When we try to protect ourselves from the inevitability of change, we are not listening to the soul. We are listening to our fear of life and death, our lack of faith, our smaller ego’s will to prevail. To listen to your soul is to stop fighting with life–to stop fighting when things fall apart; when they don’t go our way, when we get sick, when we are betrayed or mistreated or misunderstood. To listen to the soul is to slow down, to feel deeply, to see ourselves clearly, to surrender to discomfort and uncertainty and to wait.”
― Elizabeth Lesser
I’m often amazed at how I think I can control the interdependent co-arising of life. With all the phenomena unfurling and folding around me, there’s an infinite amount of things happening outside the realm of my control.
The good and beautiful surprises don’t get to me so much as the other side of impermanence: the people, places, and things that aren’t going my way, are not what I want to be, are making me up-regulated or make me feel helpless. The latter pile of happenings–all those things I can’t control–usually make me entirely anxious. Which then pushes me to want a plan to manage everything, or, even better, clean something. Most of the time I do both.
I know it’s delusional to think that cleaning my house does anything to control the entropic chaos out in the world just beyond my doorstep. I have hard time with the random and unpredictable nature of life which I try hard to offset in a myriad of ways that I actually think I influence.
It’s unsettling to think that no matter how many fresh-pressed juices, freeze-dried superfood powders, grass-fed Level 4 meats and bone broth with organic ghee I consume along with my doctor-recommended supplements, I still end up with a chronic illness that takes years to heal. It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t seem fair. Following steps A, B, and C doesn’t mean that I’ve spared myself from the suffering I was intending to ward off with a gluten-sugar-dairy-caffeine-grain-and-fun-free life addicted to purity. Even in my attempts to consume beyond medical reproach and embody the pinnacle of health, there is so much out of my control and awareness that I didn’t really stand a chance at attaining that goal.
I have only a modicum of control over what happens to me. I have only my choices and my actions. That’s all I got in the massive control panel as a human. Two buttons. Infinite possibilities. Though, when I start fearing life coming at me, the modes of control I tend to employ are usually isolating and limiting. Before you know it, I will resign myself to never leaving the house.
“The world is a terrifying place. We manage it by believing we can control it. And when it hasn’t been controlled—when it doesn’t bend to our wills—we either look for something to blame, or we surrender,” wrote Heather Kirn Lanier in her epic piece, Superbabies Don’t Cry.
The fullness of life includes suffering, the thing we want most to keep at bay. Including suffering, and all the feels therein, is part of what this life is about. As Elizabeth Lesser tells us above: “To listen to your soul is to stop fighting with life–to stop fighting when things fall apart; when they don’t go our way, when we get sick, when we are betrayed or mistreated or misunderstood. To listen to the soul is to slow down, to feel deeply, to see ourselves clearly, to surrender to discomfort and uncertainty and to wait.”
“This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted and shaky–that’s called liberation,” writes Pema Chodron. Being in the unmapped space feels alive at that point where fear shifts to excitement within us. And we have an inner confidence, an “I got this” stance about us, that lets us meet life on its terms without wanting to shoot the messenger.
Our body gives us no shortage of signs that we’re stressed by the perceived terrors of life. We restrict in the fighting, a bracing against our own failure to accept what life is coming at us. Our anxiety is a sign that we’re stuck in that current. And, then, we’ll exercise our favorite defenses and fear-of-life coping tactics. (These motifs can get especially gnarly especially when it comes to relating with people, as our podcast guest, Simon Cant talks about with Jerry in this episode.)
When is anxiety is present for you? What does that feel like? Where does it live in your body? What memories, sounds or images are present for you as you feel into it? What is that anxiety trying to tell you? How old is that message? What are your go-to responses for managing that anxiety? How does that response serve you, the situation, or your relationships?