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Anxious

Two weeks ago, at 3:30 in the morning on a Thursday, I felt the beginning of a panic attack. And then it built on itself, as these things do. I awoke, short of breath, sweating, my mind racing.
I was in a full panic.
I made a mental inventory of the possible reasons:
  • the email that I needed to send to Patrick
  • the woman who wouldn’t even acknowledge my apology when JJ barked at her
  • the upcoming newsletter and perennial fear that I won’t know what to write

But none of them seemed right.

I knew I was not panicked about any of those, really.

  • Patrick loves me, and I’m sure he’ll be ok with the email being late
  • I don’t really care about a rude passerby; that’s not me
  • this wasn’t going to be the first week I didn’t know what I was going to write

It was none of those.

So, like a diver on a recovery mission, I decided to submerge again – to seek out the cause of my anxiety.

I was anxious. It must have a cause. The cause was __________, but I didn’t know how to fill in the blank.

And, then, it dawned on me clearly.

I got a revelation at 3:30 in the morning.

I was looking for a reason for the anxiety, but I was looking for the wrong thing. Because I was anxious – without the thing.

The anxiety was just anxiety.

If I had been anxious because of __________, I would have thought of __________ first, then become anxious.

But it didn’t happen that way.

I was anxious, and then I was looking for a reason to justify the feeling.

The feeling was the feeling. It was not caused by a particular reason.

Had I settled on _________ being the cause, I might have exacerbated the anxiety!

Once I realized this, I calmed down some and then fell back to sleep.

For full disclosure, before I fell back to sleep, I woke Jane up, had her hold me and help me with a breathing technique, and made certain that there was a CBD gummy within arm’s reach so I could take it if the anxiety reappeared.

Children

I remember watching each of my children, when they were little babies, lying in the red crib with the polka-dotted bumpers. I remember watching them, as, in the course of an hour, they would seemingly go through every emotion. They would be lying there and start to laugh, and they’d be lying there and look panicked, and they’d be laying there and look content.

I remember thinking then, “maybe the emotion comes first?”

Maybe the same is true later in life?

Maybe some emotions happen not beckoned by circumstance and it’s only later that we ascribe the reason?

If you received this newsletter in 2004, you might remember, I had written about my five-year-old Annie going through a similar process when trying to figure out why she was mad.

A fine, bad mood

Last Thursday, I drove from my side of Portland, over one of our many bridges, to the other side of town to a meeting of the Oregon Board of Rabbis. On the route, I noticed that I had a sinking feeling. My mind was telling me that I was a fraud, that I wasn’t doing anything of any importance in my life. I felt anguish, discomfort.

This feeling was probably exacerbated by my “outside the box” ministry without a building, dues-paying members, or a “religious” adherence to Judaism as the path I promote.

But the feeling was just the feeling. The words in my head were just words in my head.

I knew this feeling. I knew these words. They weren’t really about my status within the Oregon Board of Rabbis. It was really a feeling and a set of words that seem to cycle to me from time to time. In my 49 years, I had previously experienced this feeling and these words. And I knew that in a matter of hours or days, I would return to feeling like me.

In that way, I was able to be detached from the despair.

It was a delightful and new experience for me. To be in a bad mood, but not in a bad mood about being in a bad mood.

On my drive back from the meeting, I phoned my friend Cohen to tell him about it. I laughed while telling him, “I’m in a really bad mood, but, here’s the thing, I’m in a fine mood about it.”

 

Notice, don’t believe

Jiddu Krishnamurti remarked:

The highest form of intelligence is the ability to observe without evaluating.
Allan Lokos of the Community Meditation Center in New York City teaches:
Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that – thoughts.

With love,
Rabbi Brian
 
rabbi_brian@rotb.org
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