“He loves me. He loves me not…” A child’s game we have all played by picking a daisy’s petals to determine our fate. As children, we thought it was fun, but we also knew it gave us a sense of power; a chance to take control of a world that sometimes felt out of control. Superstitious games of jumping over cracks on the sidewalk in fears of not breaking your mother’s back, making choices by playing “eenie-meenie-miny-mo”, and looking scared whenever you read the number 13 (especially if it fell on a Friday) are all parts of our cultural psyche’s addiction to superstition and fear. 10-year-old girls would play “Light As a Feather, Stiff As a Board” and swear to their friends that they elevated off the ground a few inches. Then, after the thrill of that, we would creep into the bathroom with a flashlight, stare at the mirror and repeat over and over again, “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary.” in fear of seeing the bloody image of Mary illuminate in front of us. It never failed that either one person claimed to have seen her, or someone’s pajama shirt skimmed the knee of another girl, or a braided piece of hair was flipped onto another girl’s shoulder, and we would all run out of the bathroom screaming and swearing that we would never conjure up ghosts like that again. Until, a half an hour later we were scared, and so we pulled out the ouji board. In school, we all participated in the “Who Will You Marry, Where Will You Live?” paper activities, and we were either elated or sadly disappointed when our choices became revealed through excessive counting of squares and letters. “He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me…” This thought process and all of these activities were entertainment, but also a way to control our addiction to a sense of fatalism yo trying to attain ultimate control. A place in our minds where we could tap into our fear of the unknown and explain it away by games.
My fears these days do not go away that easily, nor can their origins be fully explained. I have minor fears like: finding a crawling spider, or forgetting to record a NCIS episode, or trying to pop a zit. (“How am I going to cover up this zit? Dear God, it’s hideous!” ); to mediocre fears like my varicose vein on my leg and the blood clot I worry about getting again. All of this before I get out of bed. Once I start moving, my major fears and catastrophic scenarios begin to spin around in my brain. These are the “what if” fears. What if my cat, who had an itching problem due to a flea, or what if my dog, who had a messed up stomach from eating cat poop out of the litter box, will die while I am away at work? I won’t be there to save them. Or, what if I never find that special someone? The latest “what-if” is due to my 2 1/2 year-old nephew’s undiagnosed blood disorder, which causes him to bruise on almost every part of his body, and might cause him to need a bone marrow transplant as part of his recovery. The “what-ifs” there are too dark to tap into, and so usually I pull myself back from the ledge before I look over the cliff and see how far the drop is.
Wanting him to be healthy is all of our family’s and friends’ desire. If only finding out the truth of what he has, and how to solve it was as easy as plucking petals from daisies or googling his name and asking the question, “Will Ben be OK?” But, it’s not. Nothing is. This is where fear can take control and have power over you. Believe me, I know. I grasp at half-truths and latch on to “well, maybes…” and hold onto them as tight as I can; yet, like dry soil clenched through a small child’s hands, I can’t hold onto them for very long, and so they seep out of my brain, and I’m left with facing reality. Then, I do what everyone else does: I try and find some other thought (no matter how good, bad, dramatic, bizarre, or off topic) and obsess on that for awhile before returning to major fear #1. It’s not even lunch time.
Fatalism sets in, and I eat lunch, watch some TV, do a few light household chores, run some errands, and that seems to dull the fear for awhile. It always finds its way back to me though, and it’s usually when I least expect it. A thought of, “Oh, huh, I’m happy right now,” is immediately replaced by, “Oh, God, Ben had a bloody nose last week, what does that mean?” or “My dog just hacked up something, could he be having a seizure?” and I’m back to square one where I combat my fears and swat at their ghost-like shadows until they clear my mind for awhile. Midday, when the sun is at it’s highest, I am in “control mode” and I begin conjuring the warrior inside of me and start scheming of ways to solve my problems (or others’ problems) and quell the fear that is driving me. That lasts until dinnertime, when I slip back into fatalism and watch my taped NCIS episode. Later, before heading to bed, I begin reflecting on my day and deciding on what was right with my day, who I helped in some capacity, what I learned, and what I want to give to someone I love. I calm down and read a book because I’m not totally ready yet to face my nighttime self and re-enact my ups and downs and fears of the day through my bizarre dreams. I’m reminded of the Moorish proverb that states “He who fears something gives it power over him.” So, I try some type of mediation or calming breathing exercise I learned in yoga so I can release some of that power that is being held over me.
Yoga has been my saving grace for the past 7 years. It has helped me deal with my anxiety and has recently begun leading me down a path of deeper understanding and compassion. Yet, I still am scared and my fear cycle begins and ends almost the same as it does every day. One of the biggest changes that I have made: to let it happen, but not hold on to it as tightly. My good friend Sarah, who is also my yoga teacher, recently told me to “Give it to God,” when I began to detail my nephew’s health problems. I smiled, shook my head, and said, “Yeah, you’re right,” and then I said goodbye and left yoga class feeling pissed off. Not at her, but at God. (I was in “control mode” and the sun was shining pretty bright that day.) “God can’t handle this one,” was my impulsive thought followed by a rapid mental diatribe of things like: “I have to do something about it. I need to get on the phone and call the doctors, search for second opinions, and I need to do something to help my sister (who is beyond her limit in the stress and fear department), and I need to take care of my nephew for a few days to help him heal and help out my sister and her husband, and I will think those positive thoughts, dammit, and he will get better. Do you hear me God? Do you? Because I’m telling you, you can’t change up our lives and make us scared of all of this. I won’t let you.” Then, I walked across the parking lot, opened my car door, got inside, and slammed the door.
This morning, I sat in my chair, drinking my coffee, reading Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann, a yoga master, and realized that giving the problem over to God is a more rational, loving, natural idea then trying to act like a crazy woman in a straight jacket who is searching for the keys to the padded cell inside her mind. Schiffmann reminds us (like do our preachers at church, and the Dalai Lama on TV and in books) that we did not create ourselves. We are co-creators, but not the sole creator. Is it not the same God that makes mockingbirds sing beautiful songs outside my window? Is it not the same God that created universes as well as a simple blade of grass (which Walt Whitman referred to as being the journey work of the stars)? Is it not the same God that put my nephew, only a few days old, in my hands and gave me the joy of reading his first book to him which was about welcoming him into our world?
Mahatma Gandhi was once quoted as saying that “Fear has its use, but cowardice has none.” My friend Mary, who is a wonderful, accomplished artist, recently told me that she has dreams, nightmares really, which are spurred by rational and irrational fears in her life. She told me that she doesn’t write down her dreams or fears, but uses that same energy that is inside of her to create her art. That fear is her power put into action. She is prompted by the fear, but she is not consumed by it. She masters it by creating. I took that idea, and began this blog. I also took her idea and am working on becoming more dedicated and disciplined in my yoga and meditation practice. Last week, embroiled in fear and tucked into the fetal position on my yoga mat, I cried for about 20 minutes over my sister’s hurt, my nephew’s health, and my fear of being out of control. I let the fear build up inside of me, yet I did something different: I welcomed it in, knowing that it cannot rule me. It can just pass through me. Once that energy came, I began to take action. It was the desire to understand the fear and go past it that made me begin breathing the deep ujai yoga breath and do lots of sun salutations, upward facing dog and downward facing dog poses, hip openers, triangle pose, standing splits, backbends, and a glorious Wheel pose and a steady and strong headstand, all the while dedicating my practice to my nephew. I went past my fears, and felt joy. Sheer joy of action and of breathing, and of living, and of giving my love to him through my actions and my thoughts. Only then is when I realized, for a brief moment, I gave my fears over to God.