“Caring about the world does not begin with fear or morbidity but with fascination (curiosity).” –Garrison Keillor
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been fielding more stress and anxiety than usual.
Various friends, family members, and clients have been in heightened states of turmoil, conflict, and transition, and it’s been challenging to find stable ground.
It’s like everywhere I turn, something new, unusual, and unsettling has been coming up. Perhaps you’ve been feeling it too.
Here are four key practices (and a butterfly story) that reduce my stress, calm my anxiety, and keep me resourced and grounded for whatever may be coming next.
1. Stay true to my highest values.
I love facilitating, teaching, and learning about human transformation, growth, and development. When I am doing any one of these things, I get into a flow where time almost stops and I can lose myself in what I am doing. I feel energized, inspired, and centered. When I am stressed and anxious, remembering the things that bring deep meaning and purpose to my life and then immersing myself in those activities is deeply fortifying.
When I’m feeling stressed and anxious, I try to be ruthlessly true to myself, asking these questions:
When am I most energized and inspired?
When do I feel like I am in a flow state of inspired action?
What feels deeply meaningful to me and my life?
Then I go do more of that.
2. Discipline my attention.
When everything is coming at me from all angles, I intentionally reduce my exposure to social media, the news, my emails and phone calls. I deliberately turn down the influx of information and stimulation, and then train my attention onto my circle of control and influence.
What am I feeling?
What am I needing?
What am I valuing?
What is energizing me?
What might help?
What do I have control over?
What can I actively influence?
Then I discipline my attention away from my circle of concern (it’s endless and disempowering), my judgments (they tend to be distorted perceptions anyway), and my fears (which keep me in my reptilian brain where I do my lowest quality thinking and deciding).
3. Make peace with my mortality.
Last weekend I sat down and wondered, if I only had 24 hours left to live, what would I want to say to whom? How would I spend those 24 hours?
Now, I realize that this may be somewhat morbid, but it actually helps bring into sharp relief those things that are deeply important to me.
I remember hearing Ken Wilber once say that if all the humans disappeared from the earth tomorrow, that it would take Gaia (the Earth) about 50 years to fully recover. For some reason, I take deep comfort in that thought and it makes dying seem so much more meaningful and hopeful to me.
4. Cultivate a vision worthy of discomfort.
When I wake up at three o’clock in the morning with anxiety running high for no apparent reason, it helps me to reinterpret it as excitement and drive and to give it a worthy cause to coral around.
To be honest, this is actually when much of my writing gets done. My e-book 8 Practices for Starting Over was written in the middle of the night when my stress and anxiety kept me up and awake.
When I imagine all the ways that I want to connect with humans and inspire them on their journeys towards love, freedom, compassion, and grace, it’s worth all the discomfort and unpredictability along the way.
What grand vision is emerging within you that you’re willing to be uncomfortable for?
And a Butterfly Story
Finally, I want to remind you all of the story that Barbara Marx Hubbard tells about the imaginal cells inherent in caterpillars that carry the blueprint for a butterfly. At first, there are only a few imaginal cells, but as the caterpillar gets larger and begins to cocoon, they proliferate.
The caterpillar’s immune system sees them as foreign invaders and attack them.
A war between the caterpillar’s immune system (protecting and defending the old structure) and the imaginal cells (bringing the blueprint for a butterfly) ensues. Eventually, the imaginal cells proliferate and break down the body of the dying caterpillar to become the butterfly.
Old structures are falling away, but not without a fight.
I know we may be feeling anxious, afraid, and stressed out, but let’s imagine that we are each imaginal cells with an inner blueprint of whatever wants to emerge next and keep our sights set on the magnificent wings that we are yet to grow.
And now I’d love to know: What helps you deal with the stress and anxiety of these times?
Leave a comment below.
WANT TO GO DEEPER IN THIS WORK?
Here are a few of my programs that might be of interest to you: