Saturday, April 16, 2016

Are you anxious to get started?


This herd of deer was very aware of us as we stopped to watch them graze. Deer are interesting because we think of them as symbols of both calm and caution. There's a fine line between mindful and anxious.

Language, at least the English language, defines anxiety as worry or nervousness. We are all familiar with people who get stuck in this kind of worry and face it everywhere they go. Like deer, they regard all change with caution: all movement could lead to disaster. And yet, if they are anxious to do something or anxious for something to happen, it means that same feeling is also a mark of desire for change. Anxiety doesn't tell us whether the world is good or bad: it tells us that change creates stress (either because we want it or because we fear it).

If you are feeling anxious, imagine being a deer. Imagine that your heightened sensory awareness allows you to scan for danger and for the presence of your herd. Imagine that scanning allows you to put your head down and graze peacefully. Like a deer, you can be mindful of dangers that might be present and let that keep you in the present. Deer are not anxious about things that might happen in days or weeks. They are anxious to be safe and well-fed now.

If you are close to someone who is perpetually anxious, you will want them to settle down, to turn down the sensory acuity and heightened awareness and chill out. The better way is to help them function the way the deer function. Help them use their heightened sensitivity to scan for what is true in the present. Help them to be mindful. When all of their perceptions and thoughts and feelings are engaged in the present moment, they will be more like the deer. And like the deer, they will find the calm to take what they need in this moment.

Imagine what would happen if one of the deer above was worried about another of the deer. Instead of grazing (and sending the message that they are both safe), the worried deer would startle and move and the whole herd would soon leave the fresh green grass for cover.

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