Half a shade safer

Anxiety. It’s more contagious than the coronavirus. Are you feeling it? I am.

I came up with a strategy to relieve it.

And it’s working.

Because anxiety, which I think of as prolonged, low-level fear, isn’t healthy for human beings like you and me.

There’s a sort of warp in our evolution as human beings.

Once upon a time, our autonomic nervous systems sent us into fight-or-flight mode when we perceived danger — often before our conscious minds were even aware of a predator. Because there’s part of our brain that’s always scanning for danger. It’s there to help us survive. It’s instinctive.

On perceiving a threat, our bodies would tense up. Our vision would narrow. Our hearts would pound. Our blood would flow to our limbs. We would fight or we would flee.

And when we weren’t in danger, we felt safe. We relaxed. Our hearts slowed down. Our breathing slowed. We could see widely again. Our blood flowed to our organs. We rejoined the tribe.

Our bodies then had the resources to recover, repair damage, restore our metabolisms to healing mode.

I don’t recall the source, but I read somewhere that the early members of our species spent about 4 hours a day hunting and gathering. The rest of the time, they were hanging out in groups or tribes, playing, talking, taming wolves, preparing food, making clothing, making weapons, watching the clouds and the stars, praying, doing rituals, bonding with their community on whom they all depended.

Yet their lifespans were shorter. Many more infants and children died than now. They faced floods and famines, as well as predators and warring tribes.

Their lives were filled with more uncertainties and threats to survival than ours.

I have a hunch that people who were that close to survival felt gratitude for each new day. Gratitude for having food and fire and a good hunt and each other. Gratitude for the times when they were safe, for peace.

Fast forward to today’s times. We’re not out in the sunshine all day, walking around and soaking up Vitamin D. We’re breathing conditioned air inside buildings, looking out windows. We work twice as many hours as our early ancestors. We have a money economy, modern medicine, cars, Social Security.

The threats to our survival are not hungry predators any more. (Well, except when they are angry or terrified or numb human predators, especially those with guns.)

Our nervous systems weren’t built for prolonged fear, a constant sense of not being at ease, anxiety. This leads to adrenal exhaustion, which saps our energy and is exhausting without any truly restorative rest.

Maybe what we teach ourselves now about managing our own anxiety will help our species as a whole evolve past fear-based reactivity and toward a caring kind of responsibility, for our own well-being and that of others.

What makes you feel anxious? The virus? The economy? The wildfires? The election? Conspiracy theories? Race-based violence? Armed white supremacists? Antifa? The news? Karens and Chads? Maskless people? People whose anxieties have gotten the better of them? People who don’t see we’re all part of one tribe, humanity? People so anxious they can’t listen or reason?

There’s a lot OUT THERE to feel anxious about. And anxiety means we experience it IN HERE.

Take a moment to check in. Where are you? What are your surroundings at this very moment?

Are you actually SAFE in this moment?

If you have the leisure to read this, I’m guessing you are.

How does being SAFE feel in your body?

Here’s what I notice in my body.

I feel my body weight sinking into the mattress. I feel my back and legs pressing the mattress, and the top part of my body feeling cooler air. Also, that one foot that’s outside the sheets feels cooler.

I notice my chest and abdomen rising and falling as I breathe.

I hear my fingers on the keyboard.

I see my hands, the iPad keyboard and screen, the pillow they are sitting on, the tangled sheets and foot beyond that.

I see windows on either side of me, a mirror and shelf across the room, and an open closet door, and my tea on the nightstand.

I hear cicadas droning, cardinals chirping, keyboard sounds, and distant traffic.

I feel safe.

~~

The other night, I woke multiple times. My mind was thinking anxious thoughts. It was hard to get back to sleep.

Some nights are like that. Maybe it was the caffeinated tea I drank in the afternoon.

It’s not like I live in a bubble. I take precautions to prevent getting and spreading the virus. One of my family members had it — thankfully, it turned out to be a very mild case. I’m on social media. I check the news. I abhor the violence and hatred I learn about. I worry about the presidential campaign, the election, the aftermath, climate change, the possibility of a really bad economic crash.

These times are filled with uncertainty.

And a good night’s sleep means so very much in terms of having the ability to manage well.

So I tried something different. When an anxious thought arose, I said to myself, “This is just an anxious thought.”

I’d feel how it felt in my body. The tension, the unpleasantness.

Then I’d take a deep breath and let my THINKING mind take a little break by turning my attention to SENSING.

I’d feel my bodyweight pressing into the mattress and pillow. I’d feel the rhythm of breathing. I’d recognize that I was in my home, in my bed, and that there were no immanent threats to my safety. (Except those anxious thoughts.)

And I’d tell myself, “I AM SAFE.”

A few rounds of this every time an anxious thought arose, and I finally went back to sleep.

Since that experience, I’ve really been honing in on what it’s like to feel safe.

It feels good.

I am grateful.

(Apologies to David Whyte for a play on the title of his latest series, Half a Shade Braver.)

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Gurdjieff: environmentalist

The true purpose of human existence is to ensure the conscious and creative evolution of the earth and all that it contains, living and non-living. The task is a prodigious one and its fulfilment should be the chief glory of mankind. There are many who have seen that, if evolution is to continue, it must be with the conscious co-operation of mankind, but few have seen the task as a whole and what it implies….

Gurdjieff’s scheme shows us what this implies. The points of responsibility, the earth’s crust and its minerals, the soil, the vegetable kingdom on land and in the seas, the invertebrates and animals and man himself, are just those very situations that are now causing great anxiety on the score of depletion of resources, of soil impoverishment, disease, over-population, famine and war. When Gurdjieff propounded his scheme sixty years ago, these anxieties seemed remote. Now they are urgent….

This is the task to which Gurdjieff called us and for which he prepared people in the last period of his life….

Most of all it calls for a fundamental change in values which will consist in putting Nature first and man second. This is a bitter medicine to swallow, but unless we take it we shall perish. There is a little time left, but not very  much. By the end of this century the New Epoch must have been established in the sight of all.

~J.G. Bennett, Gurdjieff: Making a New World, copyright 1973.

Writing in 2013, I have grave doubts about whether this New Epoch, based on the doctrine of reciprocal maintenance, has been established in the sight of all. But in a way, it doesn’t matter. The survival of humankind and our planet and all it contains will very likely continue beyond my lifetime. But in what kind of shape?

Meanwhile, I choose to live my life with as much intelligence and compassion and wisdom as I can muster, continually awakening as to how I can live more in harmony with the planet. This weekend it meant air-drying freshly washed clothes instead of using the dryer.

I see few institutions to guide us, but it doesn’t mean giving up on institutions entirely. Prod them in the right direction at every chance! It’s better than denial or apathy and way more fun.

We all owe our very existence to the planet, which entirely sustains us, and I’m not sure we can ever fully reciprocate: give back to Nature what Nature has given us. We can be as kind as possible, though. Kinder, even.

The most effective diet tip of all

Get in touch with your hunger.

That’s all. Just get in touch with your hunger.

How long has it been since you actually felt hunger? We live with abundant food all around us, but our bodies haven’t evolved much from 10,000 years ago when the human species was hunting and gathering its food, feasting in times of plenty and going hungry in lean times.

Many modern people go for years without ever feeling hungry, so that when it does happen, they don’t know the sensation—and if they do know it, they gobble food down to avoid feeling it as quickly as possible. Feeling anything has become something to be avoided.

Many people eat according to the clock, not according to their stomachs. And we wonder why we have such an obesity problem. It’s not just the HFCS. It’s not being in touch with our bodies, with our hunger, with what “enough” actually is.

If you feel stuck with unnecessary weight or a poor diet, if you’ve used food to numb your feelings while comforting yourself, try this:

Postpone your next meal until you feel hungry and really notice the sensations in your body of feeling hungry.

There are wonderful wise lessons to learn from feeling hunger that can help you live a healthy life that you actually experience and enjoy first-hand.

  • You can allow yourself to feel hunger and know that you are going to survive. You are not going to starve to death from a little hunger (even though your mind may be telling you so). Death by starvation unfortunately did happen 10,000 years ago and sadly still happens even now, but it’s pretty rare in first world countries. How much discomfort is actually there, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being excruciating discomfort? Can you feel it as simply sensation without judging it as painful?
  • You can recognize the signature of feeling hungry. How do you know it’s hunger? Where in your body do you feel it? Feel it for 5 or 10 or 30 minutes. How does it change—does it ebb or constantly get more intense? Do you forget sometimes that you’re feeling hungry? Can you distinguish between feeling hungry and feeling thirsty? What happens to your hunger if you drink water?
  • You can experiment with how much food, and what kinds of foods, you can eat to no longer feel hungry. After fully experiencing your hunger, eat three bites of food slowly, savoring the taste and the mouth-feel and thoroughly chewing each bite before swallowing. Wait one minute and notice your hunger again. How has it changed? Now eat three more bites and notice. Notice how many bites of food you need to eat for your hunger to go away, and notice how long it stays away before it returns.

You can totally play with eating in this way! A couple of weeks of eating like this is quite refreshing after mindless eating and pretty much guarantees that just by being in touch with your hunger and eating accordingly, you will drop a few pounds.

More importantly, you may feel more energy and gratitude for your life.

~

Caveat: When is it not a good idea to play with hunger? When you have issues with your blood sugar. If you are diabetic or pre-diabetic or have hypo- or hyperglycemia, or get really shaky when hungry, you need to take extra good care of yourself and consult a knowledgeable professional first.