A few mornings ago, I woke to a view not seen before. It appeared as if a cloud had become trapped beneath the sky. I could see the surface of the river: calm water, no wind, and, just a few feet above, what looked to be a cloud. I could see the treetops on the other side and I could also see the sky above. But this cloud, this seemingly opaque bank of weather, was unmoving. Trapped. Hovering. Heavy.
My family is in the middle of a major move and I had taken a load of belongings down the highway and into our new home. I was there alone. This particular morning marked the third day since my latest anxiety-induced meltdown and I was feeling the heaviness that comes on the heels of this turbulence.
When anxious, my brain repeats the same thought over and over: “Get it done. Do it now. It must be done now.” In the same way an engine gets louder the faster it moves, so does my brain when anxiety shows up. While the speed may increase first in my brain and then my body, I have felt its pace quicken the other way too. Sometimes, I shake; a tremor warning the storm that is coming. Everything speeds up: thoughts, heart rate, movements, my reactivity. I am, to use a term a much-loved friend recently coined, hot garbage. I am heading to the dump and I know it. My family knows to give me space when this happens. To steer clear and just let me burn out. They check in gently, but I really can’t hear them. I am simply overcome. Trapped, heavy, impossible despite my hand being on the throttle.
I wish my anxiety were more like a firework. The fuse is lit, it sputters and sparkles some and then it just goes straight up and off in an explosion of colors, shapes and reflections. In my case, an early bedtime and tears. Same effect. The fire is out, albeit without inspiration. Then comes the heaviness. The fog, the detained cloud. I am trapped beneath the sky. This, I now know, is grief. Sister to joy.
Recently, I started a book I have read before. It’s about the brain and written in a way that I can understand while satisfying my curiosity of neurology. The author writes “the mind uses the brain to create the mind”. The author goes further to explain that this news is both good and bad. Our practice is to notice what we are creating. To better use our brains to sculpt a spacious mind rather than one more limiting. It’s not an easy practice. For me, it’s been a lifelong practice.
The morning I saw that cloud trapped beneath the sky, something clicked in my mind. There was a moment of recognition between this cloud and I. It gave me pause and so I watched and I waited. The surface of the river began to ripple, the cloud began to lift. It was both rising off and becoming of the river and the sky. And then, I felt it. I can only describe it “click”. Less like a seatbelt and more like a screen door opening onto a porch, the outside—space.
Sometimes, the weight of our human doings, feelings and thoughts immobilize the possibilities of our human being. In the same way I would not dismiss this cloud because it was temporarily not of the sky, I can welcome my hot garbage and my grief. Let it burn and compost, give rise to something new. Again and again. Over and over.
And I can use my mind to create a brain more willing to rest in and be curious about the lightness of being in a spacious mind. To be willing to rise into what is possible. To understand that sometimes this heaviness I feel is grief’s twin sister, joy, waiting to lift.