The most helpful thing anyone has ever said to me

By Gabs Brown

Overall, I am not an anxious person, but like most humans every now and then I latch on to a worry and get a little more preoccupied with it than perhaps seems rational. The reality of the situation, the facts and the statistics, do nothing to quell the “what if this all goes wrong?” thoughts.

One such occasion when I found myself swamped by disproportionate doubts was when I was around 20 weeks pregnant, almost four years ago. I had just got through morning sickness, just started to (almost) like the idea of becoming a mother and just started to feel a bond forming between myself and the little person growing inside me. We knew it was going to be a girl, and I had just started to feel her move – it was an alien feeling, though somehow also familiar, comforting and magical.  But alongside all this, however, a new feeling erupted: fear. 

A couple of my friends had lost babies well into their pregnancies – weeks after the supposed ‘safe point’ of three months – and the reality of what they had been through started to hit me. Before I had been pregnant myself, I could understand such a loss intellectually, but now, I could almost feel the pain a mother would experience in such a situation, and the possibility of it happening to me seemed somehow more real because I had witnessed it close-hand. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I felt vulnerable and open to a tragedy from which I had previously been protected. 

This fear started to erupt while I was in California visiting my sister. I had just completed my Level 1 iRest Training with Richard Miller and I although I was feeling particularly aware of my feelings I was perhaps not yet skilled at navigating through them. I was also jet lagged and probably a bit hormonal. One morning, my sister took me to her local farmers’ market where I bought a vegan raw chocolate drink that looked fairly innocuous, but after polishing off the entire bottle I suddenly felt my heart race, and then the baby kick and spin and go completely wild inside my stomach. I read through the ingredients list on the bottle only to realise I had consumed an inordinate amount of caffeine.  

And then came a pain. A shooting, knotting sensation in my lower abdomen. I freaked out. I convinced myself I was going to miscarry there and then.

After twenty minutes things calmed down, and probably most importantly, I calmed down. My sister all the while had remained unruffled. Perhaps to a rational non-pregnant person, the idea that you could lose a baby after drinking a raw chocolate vegan mylk is beyond ridiculous. But to me, it felt real. It felt imminent.

“I just can’t imagine losing her,” I said to my sister. “Not now.”

My sister turned to me and said, quite frankly, “The thing is Gabs, you would get over it.”

“What?” I said. Her response took me by surprise. I was expecting something more along the lines of, “Don’t be silly,” as seems the standard comeback to anyone expressing irrational fears. 

“You would get over it,” my sister continued. “If you lose the baby now, you will, in time, be OK.”

I thought about this. Was my sister right? Would I get over it? 

I knew I would be heart-broken, and the physical experience would be in itself traumatic, but then I also started to feel into the possibility that after all that, I would heal. I would move on. I would be changed, but I would be OK. There were people out there with far worse things happening to them…all the time. Overall, my life was good. I was healthy. I was strong. I would be OK.

Miraculously, my sister acknowledged that my fear was not founded in impossibility while at the same time she made me feel OK about this. She allowed for the fact that there was a chance that the very worst thing could happen, and then she reminded me it is also possible that I would cope. 

After this exchange, I still worried about losing the baby but my fears started to co-exist with an equal amount of calm. 

Now, whenever I find myself obsessing over the very worst thing happening, I remind myself that it is still possible for me, and my life, to be OK regardless. This way I am not denying my worry; I am allowing it to be there while diminishing its ability to overwhelm me. Bad things can and do happen, and I can still be OK.  

It’s certainly easier to feel good when everything’s going your way, but your wellbeing is not dependent on it. Your fears, even those irrational crazy-sounding ones, are never ‘silly’. The truth is, life is a shifty character and you never know what's going to happen next. Sometimes, against the odds, our worst fears are realised. Sometimes tragedy strikes, or things go completely wrong, or nothing much happens at all and we feel empty, frustrated or depressed and don't really know why, but that doesn’t mean we are any less alive, or any less well, or without any less potential to thrive. 

I used to think my fears were something I should overcome – a burden, an obstacle in the way of me living to my full capability. But the truth is, the simple act of being alive involves risk and uncertainty, and the trick is to sail amidst these unknown waters recognising that fear, for all its discomfort and irrational tendencies, is a powerful reminder that life is unpredictable and therefore also exciting, magical, mysterious, and awesome. 

Today, I do not try to overcome my fears. Instead, I allow them to be there as a reminder of the unknowable mystery of life and my potential within that mystery to do things I never thought possible.

Fear, you are welcome.

Book recommendation

Just a quick post today to recommend this book:

It considers the impact of having constant distractions and unending responsibilities (e.g. responding to emails) on the brain, and what happens when you stop and instead choose to go deeper into a single task. A great read for anyone feeling overwhelmed, as well as those of you wondering why it is that the moment you stop 'thinking' about a problem, is the moment the solution comes to you...

Do you wear a mask?

A poem for you today. I'll leave you to interpret it however you wish:

The Right Mask
- By Brian Patten

One night a poem came up to a poet
From now on, it said, you must wear a mask.
What kind of mask? asked the poet.
A rose mask, said the poem.
I've used it already, said the poet,
I've exhausted it.
Then wear the mask that's made out of
a nightingale's song, use that mask.
Oh, it's an old mask, said the poet,
it's all used up.
Nonsense, said the poem, it's the perfect mask,
still, try on the god mask,
now that mask illuminates heaven.
It's a tight mask, said the poet,
and the stars crawl about in it like ants.
Then try on the troubador's mask, or the singer's mask,
try on all the popular masks.
I have, said the poet, but they fit so easily.

The poem was getting impatient,
it stamped its feet like a child,
it screamed. Then try on your own face,
try the one mask that terrifies,
the mask only you could possibly use,
the mask only you could wear out.

The poet tore at his face til it bled,
this mask? he yelled, this mask?
Yes, said the poem, yes.

But the poet was tired of masks,
he had lived too long with them,
he snatched at the poem and stuck it in his face.
Its screams were muffled, it wept, it tried to be lyrical,
it wriggled into his eyes and mouth.

Next day his friends were afraid of him,
he looked so distorted.
Now it's the right mask, said the poem, the right mask.
It clung to him lovingly and never let go again. 


Yoga nidra and the great unlearning

by Wendy Knerr, Restful Being Associate Teacher

If you come to a yoga nidra class, you probably expect to do something and to learn something. Most likely, you will: techniques you can use to access your innate ease and well-being. Yet the greatest benefits of the practice may not be a result of what you do or learn, but the extent to which you begin not doing and unlearning. Despite the seeming paradox of coming to a class to discover how to not do and to not learn, I still encourage it. Here’s why.

After years of practicing yogic breathing exercises, it took me several more years to unlearn to control my breath during yoga nidra practice. I feel a bit foolish admitting it, but I discovered (gasp!) that my body breathes itself! It does so without any effort or help, all day, every day. Until then, I had unconsciously operated as though most things wouldn’t get done unless I took decisive action. As a social and political activist, the concept of not-doing — of welcoming — struck me at first as passive and lazy. And as I faced sleep disturbances, chronic anxiety, depression and a number of foot and leg maladies, I immediately went into action: fix it, I told myself, no matter what!

Through a daily yoga nidra practice, I discovered that breathing happens, that physical sensations come and go, that things change … no matter what. Even a chronic pain in the body changes from moment to moment, but I was often unaware of it because l was so focused on resisting the pain or trying to fix it. Unlearning, not doing, and welcoming instead, has challenged my beliefs about how much effort is required to keep my body and mind functioning and in good health, and my life going in the direction of happiness and purpose.

I realize this may sound unrealistic: some people have serious problems, terrible pain, and tremendous suffering. That isn’t in doubt, and I’m not suggesting there is no place for medical intervention, fierce activism, breathing exercises and uphill battles. But if you are a chronic do-er and interested in inviting more ease into your life, the practice of welcoming using the techniques of yoga nidra may be worth investigating. Welcoming can help you to approach life’s challenges with a lot less struggle. You might also find that it opens the door to many more of life’s joys, too.