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“That mindfulness doesn’t work for me, my mind is too full already. I need mind-less-ness.”
Yes, sometimes life is just so overwhelming you want a way out. You want to stop the whole world and get off. It’s just too much. David Whyte, describes it as:
“the meeting of two immense storm fronts, the squally vulnerable edge between what overwhelms human beings from the inside and what overpowers them from the outside.”
You feel like you are having to run to keep up with your thoughts. They are insisting on a conversation that goes round and round and round whilst you compete in an extreme sports competition. You try to keep up because you don’t feel you have a choice, but you know your legs are going to give out any moment, and you will collapse.
Sometimes it’s not quite so extreme. You always ran on fumes, talked fast, been on the alert, perhaps you physically shake in most of what you do. You’ve maybe had two jobs so you can make finances spread further. You fill your evenings and weekends with things to do. A game of squash usually helps to bring calm, or a long walk in the woods. Then something, almost imperceptible comes along, and that way of being just doesn’t work. Something gives, perhaps you find work becomes stressful or you develop a physical illness, start with persistent pain or simply you feel like your usual high energy approach just isn’t helpful any more. You crash and burn.
I understand that intensity of thought. That overwhelming state of fearful, high alert. I become disconnected from my body. I get lost in my thoughts. Worrying about what has happened, that I can’t change, or trying to control what happens, which I can’t actually predict. I just want to press the stop button.
I was forced to take stock when, in a short period of time, I got divorced, changed profession after a 3 year intensive course full of exams and practical tests, changed cities twice, my father died, followed by my dog, then my brother, then another relationship break down and several further moves. It was all too much. I woke up each morning, and for an instant everything was ok, till I remembered it wasn’t ok. Things would never be the same.
What to do?
Massively stressful situations might be doable in the short term, but when they go on and on it often means you have to take a good look at how you do things, assess your priorities, take stock. Decide what’s important and find some control in the chaos. I found myself in that place.
The Alexander Technique is something that can support you in such times. In an ideal world learn it, and put it into practice, before the storm fronts collide. However, when they do collide, because that seems to be a given in life, this technique can save your life. It has done with mine on several occasions.
Some form of support is often essential at these times from a variety of places: friends, family, professionals. Alexander Technique teachers can be part of that process. They can help you notice what happens to your body in times of stress. In times when you are sucked into an intensity of thought where you become disconnected from your body. They can help you notice your thought habits and find a way back to a calmer, more in control you. You can learn about non doing and begin to breath and smell the roses from the middle of the storm. You will learn a technique for life. It takes practice. It is highly likely you will come out a different person. I did, and continue to shed multiple layers like a butterfly that keeps turning into a pupae and back to a butterfly.
Try an introductory lesson? You may be surprised at the ease you discover with such simple processes.
I shared a bedroom with my sister until I was about 10. There were lots of pluses to our cohabitation. Excitedly standing at our bedroom window together, on Christmas Eve, trying to spot Santa on his sleigh, was one of them.
On the minus side, I was absolutely challenged by stuff all over the bedroom floor. I still remember the visceral reaction to the chaos. To my sister, the floor was her playground and storage space. It was bliss when I got my own room, though it was extremely tiny. My Dad built cupboards in the room for me. Essentially it became a cupboard from floor to ceiling, with a window and a bed in a recess. It wasn’t hard to keep it tidy.
Somehow, I coped with my sister’s chaos, and over the years I became tolerant to “excessive-to-me” sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, touch, movement: all stimuli. However, if you saw my desk right now you would not think I liked things to be ordered and calm, nor that I still panic when things get too messy. My husband describes my desk filing as a “sedimentary” system and when it gets to full height he describes it as shale. There is a logic in the chaos as the heap consists of things I am challenged to categorise and thus store, jobs pending, and things at the ready. I can tolerate the mess up to a point. When I have completed a job, or when I work out where they belong, they are filed away, A-Z style.
Lately, my tolerance to life seems to have shifted. Visiting cafes (a beloved pastime of mine) is a challenge. It has been gradually changing, but became really obvious last week, when I visited a local cafe that has just been re-furbished. It has huge windows, and the bustling street beyond is in the experience. They have opted for a wooden floor and wooden tables which all scrape and bang, and culminate in unique background percussion. They have lovely twinkly, bright lights, and the sun streams into the windows: it’s a bright environment. They also fitted an extractor fan in the open kitchen and its noises, plus the focused, pressured, yet light-hearted kitchen atmosphere, pervades the whole space. Add to that, the background music, which isn’t really background, customers who turn up their volume to be heard, hissing espresso machines, serving staff darting around. I had ordered, paid, and was sat there realising that it was just-too-much-for-me. I felt every cell in my body was vibrating and I wished for more calm than that cafe could offer.
I gained a better understanding of why things have changed for me when I read an article by Kate Wagner, in The Atlantic (an American magazine):
It’s an interesting read. Essentially the sparse modern decor increases noise, whereas the older style cafes had more noise absorbing furnishings. Therefore cafes are generally louder.
So, what did I do when I received my parsnip soup, focaccia, and berry tea? I decided to just be with the whole nerve jangling experience. I used the Alexander Technique to stay present, grounded, and get to know what this experience was really like for me, rather than brace against it and escape from it. I could then nurture myself with the food, luxuriate in the warmth of the radiator next to me, and even enjoy the cacophony. I also pondered on the merits of noise-cancelling headphones.
Do you notice if you brace against excess stimuli or too much chaos? Do you notice the effect it has on your body? Would you like to explore a way to be more aware of your reaction to these things and choose what to do about it? Get in touch! Have a few Alexander Technique lessons. We could even explore the process in a cafe together!
Jane Clappison MSTAT