Finding focus – staying with the fear.

I am deeply affected by the current environment – the social and political one, that is. I try not to hide away though it is incredibly tempting. I try to stay engaged with the world however maddening it is.

For several months earlier in the year I woke up every morning with so much noise in my head. So many thoughts, feelings and voices. So much fear. And above it all a constant loud screaming ‘I am going mad!’. And then as I gained consciousness the enevitable feeling of ‘I just want to die, I just want peace, I just want to dissappear’.

I have moved through this but the world is still maddening.

I think so many of us (what ever we believe or have gone along with – restrictions, testing, having one of the jabs etc) are scared, confused and overwhelmed. I myself go through different phases of terror, fury, disorientation and resignation but I keep finding that behind all that is a deep sense of pain/grief and vulnerability. I feel so small and so unable to change what is going on or even describe or make sense of what is happening.
But I feel it so deeply.

And my brain wants to know WHY its is happening. And my rational thinking thinks that if I know WHAT is happening then I can find a way to take action to prevent it.

I keep searching for answers and ways forward and people to connect with so I don’t feel so alone and powerless.
But I am not sure that understanding what is happening really helps. Because I don’t know how we can ever really know. Like really really know.
And not knowing feels scary too. And paralysing.
But I don’t think it has to be.
I don’t know what is happening or why. But I can feel it in my bones and my heart and my belly that something is wrong.

I’ve got bad but unpredictable vertigo. So sometimes I’m fine with heights and sometimes the vertigo comes out of the blue and I feel faint and sick and loose my normal thinking patterns.

All is fear.

Earlier this year I decided to walk across the Humber Bridge and was really excited about it. Until I had walked the first 20 steps onto it. Then my vertigo hit me big time and I nearly turned around and gave up.

I was struggling to move at all and I was on my own so didn’t have anyone to support me to figure out what to do. I took a break and just stood there while trying to clear my head enough to make a decision. And I reminded myself of how much I’d been looking forward to this. Also that I needed to get to the other side. And that for 40 years people have been crossing this bridge.
I could feel the bridge moving beneath me and around me and my body was screaming that it was unsafe. Every time a heavy vehicle drove past everything shook and my body upped its fear response. I felt how powerful fear is.
And I decided to walk anyway.

I decided to choose things to focus on.
First of all I had to let go of my expectations. I realised it was not going to be the amazing walk I had been looking forward to – enjoying the views over the estuary and marvelling at human ingenuity in building a bridge like that. And taking loads of photos of landscapes and the bridge.
It was going to be a horrible walk. Forty minutes of excruciating fear just putting one foot in front of the other and breathing. Just keep breathing.
I chose to focus on a vague point ahead of me. Like when I do turns in dancing. You choose a point to focus on and return to. It’s not like you are really looking at something or taking it in. You just focus.

I also chose to focus on my body. Part of me felt really angry at my body for betraying and going I to fear mode. But I decided to really feel the fear and honour it and honour my body. My body does what it does – judging it doesn’t really make a difference. The only way to calm it quickly would have been to avoid the bridge but that didn’t feel right either.

So I stayed with the fear and while feeling it I also explored in my mind what the worst that could happen could be. Images of the bridge collapsing flooded my mind. Cars dropping into the water below. The wrenching of metal, the screaming, the chaos. Sensations of the falling, the flailing, hitting the water, the terror, the panicking, the pain, the gasping for air, the drowning, the dying.

And I kept walking. Slowly. Counting my steps. Coordinating my breathing. Sometimes stopping just to breathe for a bit and steady myself if the dizziness got too bad.

And I kept moving. I could feel the pull to dissociate. To remove myself from my physical sensations and sensory input. And I tried to bring myself back everytime I noticed my head had gone somewhere else. Back to my body, back to the bridge, back to the walking.

Back to the fear.

Back to the parts of me that were screaming. Back to the intrusive terrifying images in my head. Trying to gently accept that parts of me were responding in this way to what I was doing. Telling my body that the fear was okay.

And still believing that what I was doing was okay. That I would make it and that I would be okay. And even if I didn’t then that was okay too. That I would have the skills and ability to deal with the aftermath of putting myself and my body through so much fear.

I also tried to make space for the parts of me that were angry and embarrassed and annoyed. Swearing out loud, cursing myself and my silly body.

I promised myself to approach the next pedestrian, runner or cyclist that came by. Explain my predicament and ask if they would be okay walking with me for a bit. But whenever someone passed me I just didn’t have the capacity to start engaging. So parts of me got annoyed with me for being so weak. But then I also noticed that just having people passing me helped so much. Other people crossing the bridge made it feel a little bit easier.

And I kept walking.

And just focusing. Not on anything in particular. Just a spot in the distance.

And I had this experience of focus becoming a state of being.

And I wondered why we are told that focus is about focusing on something… And I wondered about the ways in which focus so easily becomes about a goal, about achieving something or reaching something.

I came away from this experience of crossing the bridge with a new and deeper appreciation for the ability to focus and how focus – the state of focusing – is extremely powerful. Something that can help me move through fear.

Not affirmations, reframing, rationalisations, self-soothing or reality checking – though I did use all of those little tricks but none of them were sustainable and they only had a very superficial impact.

Overcoming, avoiding or calming the fear was not going to work if I wanted to cross the bridge. What seemed to work was finding focus while feeling the fear, while being terrified and acknowledging my vulnerability, my mortality and my human messiness.

I am a complex being – as I think most humans are. I want safety but I also want diversity and freedom. I want peace but I also want challenges and creative chaos. I want clarity and predictability but I also want endless possibilities… I want complexity and simplicity.

Being more aware of my own complexity and of complexity around me can be overwhelming and destabilising.

The lack of right and wrong and good and bad feels like the bridge crumbling away beneath me.

Where is my solid ground of moral righteousness if I no longer see the world in terms of what is truth and what is lies? How do I walk my path in life, how do I make decisions and how do I justify my existence to others if I no longer accept that there is a divide between correct and criminal behaviour? How do I navigate the world and my relationships if I stop judging and labelling?

I wonder if I will find that I will be less afraid of judgement if I spend less energy assessing and judging the world around me? I wonder what will happen if I spend more energy exploring the diversity and complexity inside me and in other people and in society?

I don’t know what is going on in the world. I don’t understand it and I don’t know why it is happening. Not really.

I know it makes me feel so scared.

But maybe if I keep honouring complexity and vulnerability in myself and others and I do my best to find focus, then maybe I can move through this strange time.

One comment

  1. thank you for posting this – a timely reminder as I experience episode of vertigo, probably harmless (when turning in bed of all places)and remnants of spiritual manipulation by someone who ‘means well’ – which can also make the world feel pretty unpredictable -. P.S. Have recently met on zoom a woman who moved from Buddhist Zen teacher to independent work. One of her youtube videos of 6 mins has the title focus –


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