Blood Memories book

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Free-Floating Anxiety

Many clients have confided in me lately about feeling a vague sense of dread. I’ve studied a lot of charts, and the truth is almost everyone has the potential somewhere and at sometime to be overwhelmed by free-floating anxiety. This is not a bad thing, disturbing as it might feel. It’s a call to pay attention, to wake up to something. But what is that something??? 

I’m not speaking here about all the concrete reasons for worry and dread. The state of our world today provides plenty of valid reasons for concern. Each of us in our personal lives also encounters challenging circumstances, hard decisions, and uncertainty. When the source of that “dis-ease” is clear, the anxiety it generates is not free-floating. It has a logic that the rational mind can grasp. 

Free-floating anxiety is different, its source too elusive, too multi-faceted, too enigmatic to identify. The dread is there, and it is overpowering: a vague apprehension about something undefinable, concern about an unknown outcome of an uncertain happening, a tense state of waiting  . . .  for something to happen, for something to do, for clarity around you know not what.   

While every day life provides endless distractions. . . . . emails, phone calls, bills, appointments, news, social media, shopping . . . the dread seems to subside. But it hasn’t really. Beneath the surface, in moments of solitude, it re-emerges, a vague, unsettling je ne sais quoi, but at the same time strangely imperious. It demands attention, distracting us from all the distractions. It’s trying to tell us something. But what is that? And who or what is the messenger? 

If I say that a regular yoga practice is the best antidote, the best way to tap into the purity of bliss present in every moment, you won’t be surprised if you know me. And it is true. Meditation, japa, pranayama, asana — these are tools, and most efficacious ones, for realising our ground in Ultimate Reality. Those of you who came to my classes over the years know well my dedication to yoga. But what if I tell you that in spite of my daily practice of so many many years, I feel today like a dry leaf blowing in the autumn wind? 

I’ve spoken before about the integration of yoga with daily life, about living as if each leg belongs to a different reality. Through powerful sadhana, one leg remains permanently rooted in the eternal, transcendent Ultimate Reality beyond time and space. It is the North Star of our existence. The other leg belongs in the world. It remains grounded in the here and now of Ordinary Reality, answering to the needful of body and mind, duty and dharma, and responding in the heart to the pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow that the flow of life always brings. 

Yet that equilibrium between the two legs can be upset. Not only have I been hearing about it from many of you, I’ve been feeling it myself. These are turbulent times. The world no longer provides a steady foundation for the leg that belongs to ordinary reality. Change is too rapid; systems and structures are fluid rather than stable, almost vaporous in their ability to mutate. The breakdown has actually been creeping along for well over a century, perhaps two. Just after World War I, W.B. Yeats wrote a poem about it, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre, The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold . . . “ 

Today the acceleration of this breakdown has exceeded all proportion. It’s no wonder that our worldly leg is collapsing underneath us. Everything gets called into question. There is nowhere to go. Yet at the same time, our other leg—rooted in eternity, fortified by sadhana—knows that this too will pass. It understands the ephemerality, the insubstantiality of everything worldly. 

Anxiety arises from the disconnect, I do believe, between these two orientations. While free-floating dread remains very real, very uncomfortable, its message is ironically the grace that keeps us from giving way. It generates urgency, making us realise that separation is not a viable construct. It keeps us from sleep-walking through our days. Particularly during these turbulent times of radical change, we need to embody our deepest Truth.  

The metaphor of two legs needs modification. For our truth, the truth of all things manifest, resides in Unity. As we journey through time, awareness of Ultimate Reality needs to inform every moment of our experience. It is the Light Divine, which illuminates everything, from core to surface. Its radiance shines from every blade of grass, from sun and moon, from stone and rain. But we need to pay attention! For in fact, the two legs of existence are actually one—differing only in appearance, not in essence. As these two sides of reality show their alternating faces, moment by moment, day by day, their Oneness comes into clarity. And their voices become very audible. They command our attention. These are the voices of the gods, of the angels, of subtle beings inhabiting the astral realms, of unconscious forces of the psyche, of epiphanies of the imagination—or however you want to define them. They are telling us now to wake up! 

Om shanti ❤️