The energy of excitement. The intensity of anxiety.
Anxiety & Excitement are the same energy. Yes, you read right. This is a concept that tends to trip people up, and it certainly tripped me up when I first started to grasp it. But stay with me, keep breathing.
Anxiety and excitement both lead to states of arousal. The body cannot tell the difference between these two states until we give it a meaning through interpretation. We may experience anxiety as tension, nervousness and restlessness. We may experience rapid heart rate, sweating, increased breathing, or difficulties concentrating. And this experience is similar to that of excitement. This aroused state comes from the same place. That surge of energy readies our bodies to action and prepares us for how to respond to whatever it is that is causing this response in the first place. The neurological science behind this is fascinating, but I'll save that for another time. For now, I want to talk about noticing this energy.
As a therapist and meditator, this was a concept that I understood on a surface level for quite some time, without ever really taking the time to dig into it deeper. It was something that I understood cognitively and just sort of accepted. Then as I began to practice more meditation, this cognitive understanding became more of an interest to me instead of just a cool fact I picked up in uni. In Buddhist traditions, the practice of equanimity means to maintain a conscious awareness of the transience of the universe--that is to say that the fluctuations of all experience emerge from the same place and can be acknowledged from a place of compassion. Practicing equanimity does NOT ask us to blindly develop a dry neutrality by remaining shut off to emotional experiences. What equanimity DOES encourage us to do is tap into the very source of all experience so that we can cultivate compassion to the full breadth of all human experience. This does not ignore the suffering of the human experience; it holds it in love.
When we allow ourselves to sit & witness this equanimity, we can begin to realise that rage, love, sorrow, excitement, anxiety, restriction, relaxation, pain, pleasure, laughter, crying, life, death....are the same thing. We can begin to realise that the breath is the thread that connects us to all of these experiences, and that these experiences are do not exist in opposition to each other, but instead exist as two sides of the same coin...two sides of the same breath.
Recently in my own meditation practice, I became fully present to this...and I've got to say, it nearly broke me. As I sat, I allowed myself to dig as deeply as I could into tension by breathing in as much as I could. As I inhaled, I embodied everything I could to hold tension. This included what it feels like: (tightening of muscles); what it looks like (sharp edges and angles; colours of blue & red); what it's frequency is (a shrill, high pitched noise that condenses into an almost bullet-like fashion). I began to feel a burning pain on my skin like as these shrill, tight pellets sliced through my body. I sat in this for a moment, just witnessing the experience...before slowly breathing out as long as I could until I felt my lungs completely empty. As the tension melted away into release, the colours transformed into soft greens & purples. The frequency broke free into loose, floating curves and dulcet tones. And yet, as I sat there having completely expelled my breath, it wasn't long before I found my body aching to leave this state and return to the energy of the inhale. It was the point at which stillness, silence, and space meets tightness, noise and limitation. Yin meets yang. The point at which we decide to keep going. We cannot exist on either side for too long.
I began to breathe into each of these tightened and relaxed states with intentional softness, no longer forcing breath on either side, and noticed how the feeling of intensity occurring on the inhale...was the same as the intensity felt on the exhale. The pause in between the breath became effortlessly longer as I chose when to return to the other side of the breath. I began to become present to the sheer perfection of the universe, knowing that we are never given anything more than we can handle in each moment. Holding our breath in pause is where we feel we might break apart from compression or be swallowed whole in release until we must choose to take in or let go. The intensity begins in the pause between breaths. The energy is born from the pause.
I became aware of how the very things that restrict & bind us can also become the point for our deepest growth and compassion. I felt the equanimity of suffering and of pleasure, and how they are in a constant dance with one another. I felt the oneness of ‘holding it all together’ and letting everything melt away. All we have to do is continue to breathe through the moments until one day we know not to any longer. Such simplicity. Such complete perfection.
When I emerged from meditation, I sat in this place of bliss for a moment. I smiled and my face scrunched itself up as I laughed...and then began to cry. For the better part of an hour, I sat with tears streaming down my face. The profound awe and exaltation I had only just felt started to transform into sorrow and grief over this awareness of experience. I suddenly felt alone, exposed, and cold when just moments earlier I felt completely enveloped and held by the warmth and beauty of the universe! I began to feel resentful of this supposed "simplicity", angry at it for being such a cruel joke. Where I was once relaxed, open and ready to receive; I now wrapped my hands around my torso to hold myself tighter as I cried harder. I felt frozen in a painful paradox where the very thing that connects me to life will be the same thing that leads to my death.
But...the stabbing, cold intensity I felt underneath my tears...was the same as the energy I felt earlier while I floated in the warm womb of universe. This was still perfection. This was not the opposite of what I had previously experienced, it was the other side of it. Complete balance. With that same energy from earlier: everything I had become a witness to, everything I had just taken in and filled myself with, everything I had just attached myself to...now had to be released. With breath, we are in constant process of taking in, pausing, and letting go. Over and over again, until we know not to anymore. With our relationship to experience, so too are we in constant process of taking in, pausing, and letting go. Over and over, until we know not to anymore. Each a call and response to the other. How will we know otherwise? I'm not sure. And I don't think I would be here if I did know. I think perhaps we only figure it out just in time to begin the other side of the experience, leaping into the arms of death to be held in that sheer perfection.
When I shared this new insight with my partner, exclaiming with tear soaked wide eyes, "everything is the SAME THING", I was met with an incredulous, bewildered look (and I'm not surprised, I would have sounded completely insane). However; my partner sat thoughtfully (or just to humour me. either way I was grateful for the audience) and listened as I tried to piece together a semi-coherent account of what I had just experienced.
"So, you've found one of the keys to the universe, hey? What are you going to do with it?"
After a pause I replied, “Well, I have no idea...I suppose when I do know, it'll be time to die. Until then, I guess I'll take what I need and let the rest go for now. I'll just have to keep breathing until decide that it’s time to stop."
Taking in. Learning. Inhaling.
Pausing. Reflecting. Holding.
Letting go. Releasing. Exhaling.