Fear & Hunger

Courage comes from craving
deeply held desires inspire us
to face the things we fear
with nothing worth reaching for
it's easy to remain stagnant

a gazelle will risk
standing side by side with a lion
if its thirst becomes great enough
dropping it's gaze from the patient predator
is worth the chance to take a drink

taking risks requires
the promise of reward
eliminating anxiety is not an option
instead I must find something
I want more than avoidance

I haven't felt that hunger
in such a long time
life becomes exhausting
when you're left trying
to just hold the line

Conflict

Conflict breeds closeness
a concept I've never quite understood
how can fighting foster connection?
I've always favored a clean break

Torn, tired muscles
grow back stronger every time
I suppose this is the principle
I've never applied

Emotions too big to express
evaporate on my lips
speaking out signals vulnerability
it's safer to pretend I don't care

Always held at arm's length
trading isolation for immunity
from all the messiness
wound up with others

Relationships aren't worth the risk
this mantra once protected me
always alright, but alone and uninspired
sometimes it feels too late to change

Trapped

trapped inside a groundhog day
of my own design
rinse and repeat
for the thousandth time

why not fall back into bad habits
when there is nothing better to do
it's tedious and troublesome
but the truth is far more terrifying

it's always been easier
to hide behind a mind set to autopilot
than to confront the chaos and uncertainty
that causes me so much fear

at least this way the days fly by
sticking to strict schedules
provides the protective illusion of control
assures there are no unexpected surprises

but the unexpected, the unknown
that's where spontaneous joy resides as well
hidden behind a writhing wall of fear and hesitation
I am what's holding me back

Where Do I Belong

They say that connection
is an essential component
of human happiness
buried deep within our DNA
we know we were not made
to stand apart

This obvious fact haunts me
and hovers above my timid heart
like a phobia of food and water
what I fear is other people
prickling skin and sweaty palms
is this what happiness feels like?

What a cruel, ridiculous irony
to be afraid of what you need
encountering so much pain 
alongside the brief pleasure
of each pathetic attempt
to belong

self defeating, sinful nature
I feel mostly bitterness
towards my own kind
I've forsaken them long ago
to find refuge 
somewhere else

I've learned to quench my thirst for connection
among the dirt and dust of forest floors
saying hello to passing birds
the innocent caresses of angelic animals
that offer me far more love
than I could ever hope to have from humanity

I was never proud to be a person
like every one else seems to be
I'd much rather place myself
with those I trust and admire
resting in the peace and simplicity
of my true brethren in nature

A Higher Hunger

Anxiety is the price of intellect
when there is nothing to occupy the mind
it will follow it's own fancies 
namely, naming everything
that could potentially pose a threat

Genius is a gnawing hunger
that left unfed, lends itself
to a buffet of fear
starved of stimulation
it will learn to feed on insecurity

Yet a fire that is fed
only grows larger
always asking for more
no longer sustained
on yesterday's small rations

A tired mind, an engaged mind
is peaceful and satisfied
a brilliant brain left to wander
will always find new worries
and run itself ragged on rumination

Great potential is balanced by
the possibility of great peril
a fast metabolism requires extra fuel
likewise an exceptional mind needs
it's own nourishment of new knowledge
 

Fear Moves Forward

that flutter in my chest
never seems to settle
eyes fixed on the future
never find rest
there is always something else
looming just over the horizon
a new fear always forms
to take its place
perching itself on my racing heart
safety and peace
permanently out of reach
forever pushed back
anxiety is a moving target
that always promises you
"just one more bull's eye
and I'll be gone"
no matter how many times
I fall for this lie
I'll believe it again tomorrow
because it's so tempting to think
that this will go away
that if I can adjust my life just right
I'll be able to rest

Unsafe

For years I've been afraid
of everything I want
I'm afraid to lose this sense of longing
I've set a place for at my table
I'm afraid it will leave me
and I'm afraid that it won't
When I face that inner voice of mine
that's all it seems to say:
I'm afraid
I'm afraid
I'm afraid
this mantra skips and repeats
etches and engraves deep marks in me
flutters nervously behind my eyelids
where can I go
when I'm afraid of every outcome
it's hard to move forward
on shaking, unsteady limbs
I've exhausted every effort
to soothe the voice that says "unsafe"
I've built up walls and barricades
I've torn them down to demonstrate
that I can be brave
but still the deep seed of fear remains
it cracks through the concrete I lay
it crawls ever upward through my veins
searching for the sun

Don’t Look at the Wall

I recently read that one of the most important tips given to new race car drivers is, “whatever you do, don’t look at the wall.” When I heard this, it immediately reminded me of one of my very first practice driving sessions with my mom when I was a teenager. As I was driving 25mph down a street in my dinky little home town, my sister yells out from the back seat for us to look at a house to our right. Without thinking, I turn my head to look. In just that one split second, turning my attention away from the road and just to the side, I had swerved the car and nearly driven up onto the sidewalk. Whether you realize it or not, where you place your focus is the direction you are heading.

We say something similar when teaching arm balances in yoga. In teacher training when we practiced cues for bakasana (crow pose) we were told to always make sure to emphasize the importance of our gaze. If you look straight down between your hands as you try to lower your body’s weight forward onto the backs of the arms, you’re inevitably going to tumble forward and possibly hit your head on the floor. The trick is to look a few inches ahead of you. Looking forward, but not down. Our gaze is a reflection of our focus and intention and a reminder of how important these things are.

I think these physical examples are an excellent demonstration of how this same principle applies in more abstract matters. If you look at the wall, you’ll hit the wall. If you look at the floor below you, that’s where you’re going. If you focus on the potential problems or possible ways you might fail, that is where you’re going to find yourself in the future. It seems so obvious when I think about it in this context.

My anxiety is always directing me to the worse possible outcome. It would be great if I were able to print out a pie graph of my mental energy expenditure from day to day. I’d be willing to bet that 90% of my thoughts are about what I’m afraid of or what could go wrong. Even when things usually go pretty well for me, I always immediately find the next fear to latch onto as soon as one disappears. Somehow my brain convinces itself that it is doing this to keep me safe. And to a certain extent, it is smart to contemplate obstacles that may come up and how we can deal with them in the event that they do. However, this is not really what my anxiety is doing. It’s not coming up with calm, rational contingency plans. It’s telling me that the experience will be inherently stressful and traumatizing and trying to find a way to avoid it all together.

It’s really helpful for me to remember the real life examples of the way our focus determines our experience and even has an influence on future outcomes. Yoga gives us ample opportunities to practice these principles before putting them into action in other areas of our lives. Getting into an arm balance is scary. You’re quite likely to fall down the first few times you try. But if we focus on that fear or how it feels to fall and hurt ourselves, we’re never going to master bakasana! Focus on what’s in front of you. Focus on where you want to be or what you want to see happen. If you focus on falling you’re going to fall or perhaps never let yourself try in the first place.

Realizing and reminding myself that my focus on fear is not helping me to avoid it, but instead propelling me toward it, is exactly where I need to begin. Normally when I contemplate shifting my thoughts to the positives and letting go of my anxiety about any given situation, I become afraid that by not looking at the scary bits, they’ll sneak up on me or something. It’s like trying to keep your eyes on a spider at the corner of your room so that it won’t suddenly appear on your arm. But what if staring at that spider was an invitation for it to come over to you? You’d probably keep yourself busy with whatever you’re doing and leave it alone.

It’s time for me to start giving my energy to the good things in life that I want to create, not the parts that I want to avoid. If I focus on the good, I’ll naturally move past or through the obstacles in due time. When I let myself focus on only the scary parts of life, that is all I’m going to experience, whether my fears come to fruition or not. I’ll have already lived the worst of them out in my mind anyway. It’s okay to let myself think about the good things that might happen too or the things I hope will happen. It’s safe to let myself be happy. It’s safe to imagine a future full of positivity and light. In fact, that’s the first step towards manifesting that future.

A Thousand Deaths

A morbid fixation on death overcomes me from time to time. Usually I don’t think much about it. Death hasn’t touched my life much at all in these 28 years. Somehow I haven’t really lost many close family members or friends. The death of beloved animals has been the majority of my encounters with this grim shadow that lingers on the edge of life. It’s been easy for me to live in denial of this unpleasant reality.

Last night as I was reading through the terrible ends of characters in books, I couldn’t escape the contemplation of my own inevitable departure from this world. I was petrified at the idea that I would die alone in some unimaginable form of physical, emotional, and psychological suffering. I don’t have any children, nor will I. I’m also the youngest person in my family. I only have a few close friends. It’s hard for me to picture how I would even avoid a horrific demise besides my near certain assumption that the earth with end before I have to worry about dying of old age or disease.

Then as I was falling asleep that night, a truth I have known for quite some time, but never fully felt in this way crashed over me. It is utterly pointless for me to spend my time and energy playing out this possible future in my head. If this is my fate, if my life ends in isolation and agony, so be it. Thinking about that will never be able to prevent it or change it. Yes, it’s hard to accept that death will find me one day. Even harder to accept that my final moments may be particularly sad and full of suffering. But making myself sick with fear from these thoughts will not spare me this death. Instead it will cause me to experience a thousand deaths rather than just one.