When driving along, glancing at the passenger sideview mirror that says: Objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear, my first response is anxiety, trying to work out what it means. If they may be closer, may they not be? Or may they be further? Or, if it may be nearer than it seems, how much nearer? I cannot even work out how near it seems. It reminds me of Bilbo Baggins, at his farewell birthday party, saying goodbye to all his friends and neighbors:
Alas, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits. [cheers abound.] I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
– From Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring
Once Bilbo added the last sentence, there was dead silence from the crowd, as they tried to figure out if it was a compliment or an insult. Perhaps it has to do with my poor sense of spatial direction, but the information on the mirror confuses me in a similar fashion, as I have to try to understand what it means, which makes me anxious. Like Bilbo’s audience– I am unsure how to respond to the information I have been given.
This has prompted me to write about some remedies for anxiety, which is so pervasive in our world. Anxiety is contagious. It floats. It permeates. It is not grounded in any particular, but blossoms in the general. It is perpetuated by the endless lateral movements we make, responding to links, dings and news. It is fed by fear. Unless we do something specific to counter anxiety, we float in it through the day, and it enters our sleep at night.
Here are some ideas for stilling anxiety:
The first thing I need to do when I feel anxious is pause, let go of the thought pattern. Taking the time I need to settle inward usually allows me to detect the deeper feeling. The answer lies below the anxiety, and is a time to welcome the chance to be present. This is also extremely helpful when who you are with is anxious. There is always something deeper going on that can ground you, or help whoever you are with, simply by creating space in your mind.
But here is something practical you can do, that doesn’t cost money, and you can do for as short or long as you wish:
Many of you know the work and teaching of Corita Kent. She gave her students a great exercise using a small rectangular “finder”. This is a “window”– (in class I use old slide frames, but you can make a window of any size by cutting an opening in paper)– and gave out this assignment:
Use your finder to view an ordinary object close up. Stay with it long enough that you begin to see it as a thing in itself, free from its context, and notice pattern and detail. It doesn’t have to be a thing of beauty– each thing attended to becomes so. Make notes or draw what you see. Take your finder out for a walk, and use it as a way to stop and notice, like a child. In your notebook or journal, write or draw what you see.
It is satisfying, and just the act of noticing calms anxiety, and reminds us that behind every state of mind, there is the noticer.
Art does not come from thinking, but from responding.”
– Corita Kent
Don’t think about how to be a maker, just make. Let the making guide you forward.
2. Turn a disadvantage to advantage
There is a young girl who lives in the woods across the road, and she invited me to her “opening”. She had all of her paintings on display, cookies and lemonade, and I was the only guest besides her mother. I was honored. She told me she had been taking children’s classes in painting. I decided to sign up. I wanted to see what would happen if I followed the instructions given to a young child. When I got there yesterday they had no record of me signing up and there were no children in sight. I had driven to the next town over, had visions of being a wildly creative four year old, so I was disappointed. To console me the young woman behind the desk told me I could use some paint and work from any of the post cards on display. But I wanted to be among children.
I like remembering that life is a dream, and if this is a dream, what is the message? Oh, I said to myself, the instructions were given by the woman behind the counter. Begin with an image you like (she offered post cards), and copy the colors and shapes. Let this guide you forward. It is simple enough, and I could have known this without going all the way to the next town, but all the same, I have the satisfaction of feeling I have been given an assignment, and some structure.
The next time something happens that you don’t want, try dropping your resistance to it, and enter in, like it is a dream.
The problem is not with our devices, but the lack of any real boundary around them. How often do you use the “off” button?
Here is an image Austin Kleon gave me permission to steal (with additional notes):
Do you have boundaries around your solitude?
Did you know that “down time” is an official technical phrase defined as: “lost production time due to a broken machine and its operator”?
Is solitude, which is an essential ingredient for all makers, being reduced to this mechanical definition of “down time”? Are we losing all confidence in intuition, and how it supports our making? How often are you where no one, not on any device, can find you? How often do you rely on your intuition instead of information outside you?
We need to be allowed to be out of reach, to wait to respond, to not be on call 24/7. Contrary to popular opinion, this strengthens our ability to respond with wisdom, reduces anxiety, and cultivates intuition. Intuition is an endangered species– like a muscle, it needs exercise or it atrophies.
There is an incessant emphasis on action, acquisition and arrival in our world. This is reinforced by the notion that we are negligent, or even in danger, if we abandon our phones and the demand for an immediate response. This is a big problem fed by the anxiety of missing the next bad thing that will happen. It often means that no one is in charge.
Anxiety does not thrive or arise out of stillness. The best cure for anxiety is to be still. Or to walk alone, without your phone, noticing what you see, hear, feel, touch and smell.
True action, good and radiant action, my friends, does not spring from activity, from busy bustling, it does not spring from industrious hammering. It grows in the solitude of the mountains, it grows on the summits where silence and danger dwell. – Hermann Hesse
I am beginning to believe that everything is nearer than it seems. This can either be alarming or consoling… but that is another subject…
What are your remedies for anxiety? How do you exercise your intuition? I’d love to hear from you.
One space is open in my classes this spring at the Mabel Luhan Dodge Retreat:
There is one space that has opened for the class in JUNE in Taos, New Mexico: