Letting go of Anxiety, Stepping into Integrity

monks and a woman.jpg
Letting go of Anxiety, Stepping into Integrity
by Michelle Katz

The Zen story of the Heavy Load was incredibly relevant to me this week. This is the story of two traveling monks reaching a town where there was a young woman waiting to cross the deep puddles she couldn’t step across. She was very cross, impatient and scolded her attendants. The younger monk said nothing and walked by. The older monk picked up the woman and transported her across the water and put her down on the other side.  She then shoved the monk away and departed.  The two monks traveled on.  The young monk, brooding and preoccupied, couldn’t contain himself any long and asked about the older monk’s actions to pick up and carry the rude woman.  The older monk replied, “I set the woman down hours ago, why are you still carrying her?”

This week, I found myself in this story, wondering how my counterpart continues to carry a load that I thought was let go of several times. 

The holding on to thoughts and ideas, is deeply related to our human tendency toward anxiety, including perseverating thoughts, excessive doing, compulsive behaviors, general unease and mental distress.  However, anxiety has many healthy elements to it as well, including preparedness, motivation, thinking ahead, responding well in difficult situations, careful decision making, and empathy.  Anxiety is certainly an epidemic in this culture.  But it is also part of our human nature.  The question is, how do we be with anxiety?  Do we carrying it endlessly or use it to inform more of who we are in this world?

When anxious we can lose our sense of connection to ourselves and the greater whole.  Think about times of stress in your life and how difficult relating to others can be during these times.  Kira Newman, write about how stress can leave us feeling isolated and ignored, in her article on the study of stress in couples.  She writes how empathy decreases, and more and more we can find ourselves alone.  

This week, as my counterpart carried a past minor situation with tenacity, I eventually found myself anxious.  For me, it first manifested in protective doing, putting things in order, harvesting and preparing for the winter storm: I called on my allies, I got paperwork together, I collected my information and presented my hard proof.  The verdict was in my favor and I was able to let it go, but my counterpart kept carrying the heavy load.  I, then, called on more allies and pulled out from my anxiety toolkit, things that help me connect: exercise, nature walks, yoga and Metta meditation (wishing the woman happiness, health, peace, love, and freedom from suffering.)  And again the verdict was in my favor, I released the load.  But she kept carrying it.  When I thought it was done, my counterpart took even greater action, and I noticed my lack of sleep and eating making their way on the scene, revealing my anxiety in full force, coupled with the perseverating thoughts and the desire to be alone to cope, then I remembered one of my favorite David Whyte Poems:

Everything is Waiting for You
Your great mistake is to act the drama 
as if you were alone. As if life 
were a progressive and cunning crime 
with no witness to the tiny hidden 
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny 
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely, 
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding 
out your solo voice. You must note 
the way the soap dish enables you, 
or the window latch grants you freedom. 
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity. 
The stairs are your mentor of things 
to come, the doors have always been there 
to frighten you and invite you, 
and the tiny speaker in the phone 
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the 
conversation. The kettle is singing 
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots 
have left their arrogant aloofness and 
seen the good in you at last. All the birds 
and creatures of the world are unutterably 
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

My practice of rites of passage and nature-based healing became my greatest ally in the face of all this.  Rites of passage teaches me the practice of letting go and stepping in fully.  This is not something I only do on the mountain top in times of great transition, this is a daily practice. I will not carry the woman across the river forever, because daily I find ways to let go of what no longer serves me and step into purposeful being and action.  As an initiated woman, I can respond to difficult moments (moments that stimulate anxiety) with integrity, with honest knowing of all parts of my nature. I found myself taking great leadership, making sound decisions and having purposeful foresight.

The nature-based healing practice guided me in my process as well, for in this practice, I have a knowing of being related to all living beings.  In our manic culture, I see humanity easily loose the ability to see how the tree and we are related, the spider and us share a similarity, our life and a dog’s life are the same.  This is empathy in it's greatest form, as it translates to all living beings and helps us see how all living things are related.  We are not distant or separate from the nature in all beings.  It is in this practice that I can drop the idea of seeing humans as different or more superior than any other living being, it is here where I know great connection and that I am never alone.  And in times of anxiety (the exaggerated North Shield) I can find my gifts, continually revealed to me in a life giving way and in a way that nurtures community and connects me to the world.

Do you feel anxious and alone?  Are you caring a heavy load you want to let go of?  Do you know your connection to the nature of all things?  Join Oaks Counsel to connect to your world and your purpose, so you can respond with your integrity in challenging times.  Check out our programs and nature-based healing offerings.