Coach and Author, Meredith Walters talks about the things and people that keep her safe. She explores how acknowledging her own powerlessness has reduced her anxiety and strengthened her connections to the people and world around her.
When I get anxious, my instinct is to jump into action.
When things go wrong, when the future is suddenly uncertain, when I’m doing something new or risky
or difficult—I get nervous.
And when I get nervous, I obsess.
I try to control.
There are benefits to this reaction, but there are serious drawbacks as well. For one thing, when I’m anxious, it never seems like I’m doing enough—so I aim to do it all—and it never feels like I’m doing it right—so I try to do it all perfectly. I stop taking breaks, stop doing things I enjoy, and push past my limits. Which is all a recipe for overwhelm, exhaustion, and burnout (not to mention depression).
Also, when I’m acting out of fear, I’m not listening to my own inner wisdom. So while I may be taking lots of action, it’s quite likely not the right action. And I do it obsessively, hastily, joylessly.
A Fundamental Misunderstanding
I believe that most of our less-than-effective behavior comes from fundamental misunderstandings. In the case of dealing with anxiety by jumping into action, I’m assuming that I can control the outcome through my actions. That if I do enough, or do it well enough, I’ll either get what I want, or avoid what I don’t want.
But the truth is, outcomes depend on so much more than my own thinking or actions. What I do is an extremely, extraordinarily, and exceedingly small piece of what makes things happen or not in this world.
It’s Not Just Me?
If I think my safety and well-being are all up to me, of course I’ll constantly be anxious. On some level I have to recognize that the combined forces of the world are far greater than any force I alone can muster. What I can do will never match up, will never be enough, so I’ll always feel like I should be doing more, and worse, like I’m not safe and never will be.
Fortunately, what supports my safety and well-being is much larger than my own puny efforts.
I learned this slowly over time, when others showed me where to look. As I began to pay more attention, I found that there’s a whole world out there supporting me, whether I’m aware of it or not.
Here are some of the things I found that keep me safe:
1. People I know
There are a lot of people in my life who support me directly. Loving friends who listen when I’m upset and do what they can to ease my suffering. Caring family members who help me when I need it (for some, this is the family they grew up with; for others, it’s the family that they chose). Generous colleagues who encourage me, support my efforts, or help me problem-solve. Talented people who do things for me that I can’t do—who fix my car, repair my plumbing, or clean my teeth. People willing to teach me things, and people willing to pay me for what I can teach them.
2. People I don’t know
Far more people support me indirectly. Food is a great example. For each apple that I eat, someone planted the tree. Someone else tended it. Someone harvested the apple when it was ripe, and another person transported it. Somebody put it on a shelf, and yet another person rang me up. Other people constructed the building where I bought it. Still others designed and produced the truck that transported it. You could trace back every piece of the apple’s journey and find many more people who made it possible for me to eat.
3. The Natural World
We’ve become so disconnected from nature that we take for granted all it does to support us. But I have water to drink because trees and earth and plants catch the rain and hold it, keeping it from rushing to the ocean all at once. I have food because bees and other insects have pollinated the crops. I have oxygen to breathe because plants take the waste products in my exhalation and turn them into something I can use again.
Though human beings have exploited and destroyed the living beings all around us, they continue to support us in countless ways big and small, generously making their unique contribution so that all life can thrive, including me.
4. Something Mysterious
When I look back on some of the best things in my life, I had very little to do with bringing them about. I met my husband through my capoeira group long after I had given up on ever meeting anyone through capoeira. We found our current home—in a location I now love—through dumb luck, outside of the area we were originally looking in. The idea for the novel I just completed caught me completely by surprise—I hadn’t even realized I wanted to write a novel until the idea emerged all on its own. I certainly don’t get everything I hope for, but over and over, life has amazed me with gifts I didn’t expect or earn or even know to want.
5. My Own Inner Resources
None of this is to say that bad things won’t happen. They will, no matter how hard I try or how well I do. But often what I’m most scared of isn’t a particular outcome so much as what I think that outcome would say about me, or how other people might judge me, or how stuck I might become.
But I, like everybody else, have a huge capacity for compassion, connection, creativity, strength, and joy.
Meaning, no matter what happens, I can:
- Be kind to myself;
- Enjoy moments of humor, beauty, and joy;
- Know I’m worthy of love and respect;
- Call on others for help; and
- Find ways to keep moving towards what I want and need.
Once I became aware of all that supports me, I realized I don’t need to try so hard. I don’t need to do it all or do it perfectly. I certainly don’t need to control everything.
It’s not that we should never take action. Action can be good, especially when it’s wise and loving. We just don’t need to make the mistake of thinking that it’s what we do that keeps us safe.
Widening Your Circles of Support
To get an idea of how thoroughly you’re supported, you can create a visual representation of who and what supports you. Draw a series of concentric circles and draw pictures or write the names of the people and beings who support you, starting with those in your inner circle and moving outward. Include people you know, people you don’t know, other beings in nature, other connections/forces/powers, and your own inner resources.
Then ask yourself:
- How do each of these beings support you—physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually?
- Where could you use more support? How might you find it (by finding new sources, or deepening your connection to existing ones)?
- What types of support have you paid the least attention to in the past?
- Whose circles are you a part of? In other words, who do you support?
- How might you offer gratitude, love, or a help to those supporting you?
Featured Image: Photo by Catherine on Unsplash