I spoke with someone who so beautifully explained their biggest problem that I had to stop and catch my breath.
It spoke to the human condition incredibly well.
Some of the things they mentioned:
- I’ve been so frustrated with myself lately that I find myself fighting back tears.
- I feel confused and pulled in so many directions.
- I just don’t want to feel so scared all the time. It’s immobilizing me.
- What is the right thing? What should I be doing? And why am I not managing to do it? What am I doing wrong?
One of my favorite parts of what they said is:
“So I guess, my biggest goal is to live without a general sense of fearfulness and terror, or panic, as if I have a pack of wolves on my heels, or I’m trapped in some weird escape room where I have to make the right choice – and no choice seems right.”
Does any of this sound familiar?
Let’s talk about those wolves on your heels.
The Feeling of Wolves at Your Heels
Many of us live with a fear that we’re doing things the wrong way, that we’re behind, that we should be doing something else or doing things better, that we can’t handle everything on our plate.
This fear can be constant and incredibly stressful.
Why do we have this fear and stress?
It comes from:
- Wanting something different than the way things are (expectations of ourselves, of others, of the world)
- A feeling of groundlessness or uncertainty that is always present — and not wanting that groundlessness, but wanting the solid ground of certainty
- Spinning around thoughts about the difficulties above, that cause the fear and anxiety to escalate into constant stress.
In general, there’s a general lack of trust in ourselves, in others, in the world, which causes anxiety.
There’s a struggle that we create, because we don’t want this groundlessness, we want to know the answers — what should I be doing, am I doing the right thing at the right time in the right way, am I a good person and lovable?
We can’t get certainty to any of those questions, because there’s no right answer. We will always feel uncertainty and the sense of groundlessness.
The shift comes from opening to the groundlessness, not needing things to be different, and learning to love ourselves and the world around us, unconditionally.
Opening to the Groundlessness
If we can’t get certainty about any of these things in our lives, how do we deal with this?
The practice is to be completely present with the groundlessness. Let yourself drop into your body and be with the feeling of uncertainty, fear, anxiety, stress. Start to practice with this feeling of groundlessness.
Open up to it. Relax into it. Give the feeling love and kindness and compassion. Be curious about it.
There is beauty in groundlessness, if we open up to it. It’s a feeling that underlies much of our lives — a shakiness, a wide-openness, a fluidity and unfixedness. And it doesn’t have to be something to panic about, though fear is often mixed into it. Fear is OK. Stress is OK. Even some panic is OK.
The practice is to keep coming back to the immediacy of the groundlessness. Drop from the spinning stories and thoughts about the situation, into the bodily sensation of the moment. Again and again.
Over and over, we come back, and we open. Then we can fall in love.
Falling in Love with the Way Things Are
We don’t want this groundlessness, this feeling of not knowing if we can handle everything, not knowing if we’re good enough, not knowing what we should be working on.
We don’t like it, and so this causes a lot of difficulty in us. It causes tightness, resistance, fear, anxiety.
What if we could open to accepting the groundlessness, and not needing anyone or anything to change? What if the way things are were exactly how they should be?
What if we could fall in love with the way things are, in this moment?
Try it right now: notice what you’re resisting, what you don’t want about this moment. Maybe it’s stress, maybe it’s uncertainty, maybe it’s pain or anger.
See if you can turn towards it, open up to it, maybe find gratitude about it. See if you can love it, even a little. Maybe a lot.
What would it be like, to fall in love with this moment? In many ways, this moment is fantastic: there’s light, life, air, nature, beauty. There’s sound, there’s sensation. There’s the opportunity to witness the miracle of this universe. It is incredible, so incredible! We can weep with joy at being witness to all of this, at being a part of it.
In some ways, it’s terrible: there’s tragedy, pain, suffering, death, loss, hunger, poverty, war. It is terrible, and yet, in the middle of all of it … there are loving hearts. We grieve our losses with gorgeous loving hearts. We struggle in poverty with incredible courage. There is so much human resilience in the middle of all of this tragedy. There is a lot to love, even in the middle of this terribleness.
We can fall in love with any moment, if we can open to it.
So that’s the practice: drop from the spinning thoughts into the direct experience of groundlessness in this moment. Open up to it. Fall in love with this moment. Over and over, practicing and failing, practicing and shifting.
See what it’s like. The wolves at your heels might just turn out to be a flurry of love.
This post was previously published on Zen Habits and is republished here with permission from the author.
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