I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Marianne Patrevito's reflection, "Contemplative Anxiety."
I consider myself a contemplative. Committing to being a Monk in the World, I lean in towards the practices of the mystics. Centering prayer, lectio divina, solitude and silence feed my soul. I am most alive wandering in the forest near my home, walking through a field, or breathing the air that dances above a large body of water.
I love to create, especially when I am alone, whether it be painting, collaging, writing, or making a pot of soup. My small space of garden is where I contemplate life. Allowing the dirt to mingle in my fingertips, I work through the most recent events of my days, or chat with God. Hearing about my daily practices, one would never think that I live with anxiety. Every day. Somedays are better than others, but it’s there. It does not leave. It wraps around me like a “well worn” coat.
Over the years I have argued about it, denied it’s existence and just tried to stuff it away. I’ve even tried to hide from it. Dodging anxiety’s claws, hoping that if my emotional “self “moved fast enough, the worrisome state of mind, would not find me.
Therapy over the years, many years, has been helpful. I’ve learned techniques and language that have been and are quite beneficial and serve a purpose.
Those who struggle with this feeling of nervousness/anxiousness, do so for a variety of reasons. Trauma, DNA, occurrences from our past to name a few. I always urge people to seek professional help, as I have and do. But I also feel strongly that we are responsible for ourselves and our self- care.
Most mornings I begin the day with centering prayer, sacred reading and journaling, which soothe my spirit. I then may journey to the yoga mat, where I just want to ground myself and be “in” my body. Exercise is essential. Walking daily is my go to and feeds both body and mind.
However, the most important aspect of turning in a new direction was one I just recently discovered.
I needed to befriend my anxiety.
A difficult concept, but since this was something that never occurred to me, I was willing. I was willing to bring this movement into my space and treat it as another “practice.”
I have learned, mostly through those who are walking this path with me, is this… the more I try to push anxiety away, the more it gets stronger. Try to not think about something, it will just grow. Anxious thoughts are no exception. My past failed attempts of trying to push the thoughts away and ignore the vibrating feelings that streamed through my body were exhausting. I knew it was time. Time for a change. In my search for relief, I found the five A’s of Anxiety:
Awareness, Attention, Acknowledgment, Acceptance and Allowance.
Solitude and silence were the platform for Awareness of anxiety stirring. Previously I would notice something, a worrisome thought, a reaction to the words of another, and try to ignore it. Now, I become Aware…. I do not fight or argue with what’s happening, I just notice. What’s happening in my mind? In my body?
Attention….at this point, I will turn my mind to the most outstanding symptom, whether it be shallow breath or feeling of fear. I focus there, remembering to be gentle with me. I take deep breathes as I attend and care for me. I may even place my hand over my heart space to call on my own or God’s loving presence.
Acknowledge…. so often we want to dismiss the parts of ourselves that have unwanted feelings of pain. Here is where I may say, “I’m feeling anxious/worried/angry…” Whatever is most present, whatever my attention is turned toward. I acknowledge that part of me.
Acceptance… in the past, I would argue with the worrisome thoughts, or try to fix them. My practice, and it is still just a practice, is now to accept them. They are a part of me, a part of me that I have wanted to dismiss for so long. I will then move into the final stage, which is….
Marianne Patrevito is a Spiritual Director who loves nature, the creative arts, including painting, collage, cooking and gardening. She is the mother of five adult children and one grandchild. Marianne resides in Hinsdale, Illinois with her husband, Tom.