The focus of this column is about how best we can live our lives by design and yet, at the same time, keep our inevitable mortality in our mind’s eye. That is the nub.
We also tap into what are current news stories that we can use as an entry point. Mapi used the story of the man who narrowly escaped death in the Johannesburg explosion. I used the court ruling on Aretha Franklin’s will to write about that topic.
Our quest is that readers will be called to action, to think about their lives and that their affairs are in order. That is the bigger arc of life and living it by design with clear intention.
Next year, for example, is a significant birthday year for me. How will we celebrate, and where and what is the budget?
But often, that “big stuff” is easier to design than my ordinary daily life. Unexpected things happen that can throw us off kilter. This week, I have been dealing with a fraud matter on my bank account – not yet resolved.
Like so many of us, I’ve been on business calls which have been interrupted by load shedding, and even though I have a backup modem, there is disruption to the rhythm and meeting discussions. Yesterday morning I needed to drive to a meeting. I had a flat tyre that needed attention. None of the above is life-threatening, all can be handled, but I get knocked off balance – like I forgot it was my turn to write the column this week!
I have never thought of myself as an anxious person. Covid and our worsening living conditions have changed that. I cannot live in a bubble. Load shedding, potholes, water outages, schoolgirls held up at gunpoint in my friend’s neighbourhood for their phones – the list could go on. I have joined the increasing worldwide statistic of people with general anxiety.
The body keeps the score! (that’s a book title). Nine months into our Covid-19 pandemic trauma, I started having eczema, which now advances and recedes. My skin tells me every day that I am living with anxiety. My skin has become the physical indicator of my internal state of well-being.
Our challenge? How can we live in our anxiety-provoking society as best as possible?
At the beginning of this month, I asked my husband to sign up with me to do an online course called “The Art of Calm”. The six evening classes are being run by Martha Beck, an American author and life coach whose work I admire.
I want to share with you her exercise called: Sense Drenching – Stepping Off the Anxiety Spiral.
Step One: First, call to mind something that makes you anxious – not something terrifying – but that daily dose of anxiety that often happens to all of us as life happens! Notice how this feels in your body. In mine, I feel in it my gut. Find your words to describe the sensations you feel.
Now work with your senses:
-Hear: write down three things you love to hear.
-See: write down three things you love to see.
-Smell: write down three things to love to smell.
-Skin: write down three things you love to feel against your skin.
Now imagine a scenario where you weave in at least one of each of the three things that you chose for each of your senses. “I am watching a sunset, sipping cold white wine. The smell of the food on the braai is making my mouth water. The last of the sun rays feel warm on my skin. I hear my husband’s footsteps, and he greets me with words I love to hear.”
Notice how you feel now. Describe it. “I am feeling calmer.”
Martha Beck writes: “Compare this with the anxious feeling you wrote down at the beginning. I hope you enjoyed your little vacation from anxiety.
“When we feel anxious, it often seems impossible to calm down. The truth, however, is that we can drop our anxiety quickly by focusing on positive sense perceptions. If you would like a break from anxiety, do the exercise. Focus all your attention on it, for just a minute or two.”
It is three weeks now since I did this exercise after the first class. I sometimes wake up at night and think about things that are bothering me. The last couple of weeks, when this happened, I invited myself to think of my favourite tastes, sounds, smells, touch, and sight.
I have had such fun identifying favourites, conjuring up the scenarios. And I have fallen back to sleep calmly.
We live in an age of anxiety. The statistics of people seeing doctors about depression and anxiety are increasing. Our anxieties are based on reality. Anxiety can knock us off balance.
From a place of acceptance, we need more skills that will help us better navigate our anxiety. Sense drenching – I’d never heard of it. It’s so easy. Try it.