This week I’ve been taking a trip back in time reading the work of Dr. Claire Weekes, a pioneer in the treatment of anxiety back when it was called nervous illness or nervous fatigue. Dr. Weekes was a household name in Britain, Canada and her native Australia for two decades in the 1960s and 70s. Millions of people read her books and listened to her recordings. She was no stranger to BBC television and radio.
Dr. Weekes was not a therapist or a psychiatrist. She was a general practitioner, speaking and writing in plain language her audience could identify with. Her work was based on Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which was a young modality at the time. Many wrote to thank her for “curing” them.
Dr. Weekes’ four books were an elaboration of four steps in dealing with anxiety, whether it be worry, panic or agoraphobia: facing, accepting, floating, and letting time pass. Personally, I smell more than a little familiarity with Zen and mindfulness.
The only way out is through.
Not merely putting up with or enduring it, but taking it in, embracing it completely as a reality, just as it is. It requires letting ourselves really feel.
Relaxing with it, releasing tension, looking for ways and means that carry us into it, doing just what is necessary this very moment; whether it is getting out of bed, eating, doing a chore, walking, or having a conversation.
- Letting go of tension.
- Letting go of our habitual patterns of avoidance.
- Letting go of judgment.
- Creating a space, a holding environment, to hold it with compassion and loving kindness.
4. Letting time pass
Recognizing that it is a process, that we learn and change gradually through repetition. Doing it, over and over, until we are so familiar living with it, that the fact that it scares us, or makes us anxious, doesn’t scare us or make us anxious any more. In her words, “until it doesn’t matter to us anymore.”
The “until it doesn’t matter” is a strange thing to read. I get the sense that what she is referring to is that we stop paying attention to all the thoughts that feed the fear and make our brains and bodies sensitized and reactive to fear and anxiety. We see that thoughts are just thoughts. They do not necessarily reflect reality. They can prime us and make us fearful, anxious and avoidant. They can turn us into jelly; lock our legs in paralysis; keep us abed; drain us of our will, desire, interest and ability live with zest and joy.
It is not that we do our level best to avoid or suppress thoughts, emotions or impulses; we just don’t obey them. We allow them to be. We see them clearly, then dismiss them; no longer giving them the credence or power we thought they deserved, because we know otherwise, from repeated experience.
Whether we practice meditation or contemplation, using mindful awareness, we create a space within, a good enough holding environment, where we bring situations and experiences and their concomitant beliefs, thoughts, emotions and sensations. To these we add curiosity, the willingness to see, know and understand; loving-kindness and compassion. Then we turn up the heat and let it simmer. Over time, we learn to relate to them, rather than react.
Before the Coronavirus burst on the scene like a bad appendix, a couple of weeks ago, a client of mine uttered this slogan,
“If you don’t transform it, you will transmit it.”
The Coronavirus is not the only deadly or deadening thing out there at the moment.
Here in Michigan, we are Sheltering In Place. I remember when it was once a term for hunkering down and waiting for a storm to pass rather than evacuate. We are finding ourselves waiting in place for a different kind of storm to pass, reminiscent of Passover, only the virus spares no one: young or old; rich and famous, or poor and ordinary by the world’s standards; high or low.
The storm we are facing, has shattered our everyday lives, scattering the absolutes we live by and over turning what we thought we knew. Shaking the ground that provides our sense of continuity and stability.
Oddly enough, as I work with people through teletherapy, I am finding that the storm and Social Isolating or Distancing are presenting many with whom I speak a rare opportunity to think, reflect and to face some things that they ordinarily avoid facing or thinking about.
One of those things is the fact of mortality—our own and that of our loved ones. Right now, we may be called upon to confront that fact in thought, theoretically, as it were. Preparing ourselves for the reality of confronting that fact experientially at some close moment in the future, whether as it happens to ourselves or to a loved one. Coming to terms with it in a meaningful and meaning filled way.
I also hear people talk about turning over two questions: “What matters?” and “Who matters?”
I will spare you from my own reflections on those questions and mortality for now. I prefer to pause and leave you the silence, space and stillness to think and experience yourself. Perhaps another time.
I guarantee that Sheltering In Place will provide you with ample time, whole days, to practice accepting, which includes feeling it, and for letting time pass. The days are long but the months are short.
Go Gently. Go Mindfully. Go Wisely. Go Well.