March 17, 2005

Doors of Anxiety

Last week I stepped outside my house and heard birds singing. It had been so long since I had noticed their songs. Where had they been? No, wrong question. Where had I been?

I had been gone for so long, locked up in a struggle with anxiety. All of my efforts were focused on the future and I heard little of the present. I do not have clarity on the number of months that slipped by this way. I was going through the motions of life, doing the best I could, but the joy of life escaped me.

And my heart was closed. When I was anxious, I did not like myself and I did not want to be seen. When I do not want to be seen, I close my heart.

It was like being caught in a subway turnstile. Have you ever tried to rush through a turnstile? You put your token in and push quickly against the bar. It pulls you up short. So you push harder and faster. It does not give. To get through you must stop, have patience and gently push the bar forward. It unlocks and spins forward. In anxiety, I keep pushing harder and harder on the bar, getting more and more frantic. I was stuck.

Somehow I broke free a few weeks ago. Was it the couple’s weekend at Shalom Mountain? Was it a visit to New York City to see “The Gates?” Was it a bit of medication? I do not know.

Was it yoga? I have been going to a yoga studio regularly and frequently for about three months. Suddenly I was breathing deeply again. I was finding stillness and relaxation. I was finding a center. Did the yoga break the anxiety or did the break in anxiety open up the yoga? Who knows?

I have been conflicted about going to yoga. It takes time and a lot of my energy. And it does not add to the Gross National Product. It does not make a difference in the world, only in me. It is not productive. And if it is not productive, how could it have value?

“Productive” and “value” are loaded words for me. I was taught early that in order for me to have value in the world, I had to be productive. For many years I was very productive, doing volumes of work. It defined me. After I stopped working I struggled with my lack of production. So I convinced myself that the real issue was quality, not quantity. I was doing a low volume of things that directly helped people. That was better than a high volume of work that did nothing but produce money. This argument gave me my value back.

When I made yoga a focus in my life I did not fit into the measures of either quantity or quality. It had no production at all. So I was conflicted and I fought it.

At the last Gathering I was deep into a process with a partner in which I was asked, “What is your truth?” I would speak my truth and then the question would be asked again. Each time the answer came from a deeper place. Suddenly I voiced that my truth was that I wanted to make yoga the priority in my life. I felt a rush of freedom and relief. I was no longer bound by production and value. This was true letting go. I knew that my truth was right for me.

Since that night I have been breathing deeply a lot. When people ask me how I am I reply that I am happy. I describe my energy as calm and smooth. They ask, “Who are you and what have you done with Jim?”

I have known intuitively for some time that my life is now about surrender and letting go. But I fight it. I like to take things on. Instead, I am dropping things off and sitting in the stillness. I am providing an opening and watching for what shows up.

All of this is very new. I do not trust it. Part of me is waiting for it to end. I am so used to the three sectioned revolving door of anxiety, depression and living. The smallest section was living as I constantly revolved through the three.

Today I am sitting outside the door. I am not going anywhere. To my surprise, I often smile to myself. I feel blessed. And my heart is open again.

I could not have done this without all of you. I could not have done this without my family, friends, fellow retreatants, walkers on the paths of Central Park, the students at the yoga studio and those at the Gatherings. I could not do what I do in a vacuum. I need all of you to help me through and to continuously call me to love and be loved.