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Checking in here, and just feeling like I’d like to share.

I’m traveling right now. With my husband in NYC and enjoying it very much. We’ve had quite a lot of great Opera to see and the weather has been terrific, and it’s been a wonderful change of scenery to be in the big city.

No real worries about “Swine Flu” or airplanes or anything. But I have noticed a little worry, buzzing around my head like a gnat. Nothing I could name or anything, just the awareness that Worry/Anxiety/Panic or whatever had ‘found’ me here… in my anonymity in The Big Apple.

So, I paused. Simply stood still. Breathed deeply. And refused to go down the road with it. Yes, I may drop dead. Sure. But that’s not going to take me out of my present moment, nor is it going to interrupt my last two days here.

It’s a kind of reaction that has grown out of years of practicing thought-interruption, and so far it has worked. Gently, but it has worked.

It’s my new mantra. Pause. Breathe. Pause.

Carry on.

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Well, I’m home! 4,617 miles of summer fun. Whew!

It really was a great trip!! We got to see a lot of wonderful things: Shakespeare in Stratford, Ontario. The world’s biggest nickel in Sudbury! We saw museums of Locks and Canals, Cradle of Forestry, mining tours and a host of other wonderful treasures!

We found ourselves in the town that is the home of Popeye! That was cool! And we got to see the wonderful Shipwreck Museum of Lake Superior … (cue Gordon Lightfoot) … and it was a moving experience to see what raging weather can do on those lakes that were calm and beautiful during our trip!

We drove over bridges and mountains. On Interstates and back roads. Stayed in hotels, motels, and B&Bs. Some were great. Some were not!

The great thing was I felt like it was an adventure! I was able to stay present, and in the day – wherever we were. I drank in the weather, the scenery, the friendly people. I ate the fudge!! 🙂

I’m glad to be home…even with the Florida summer heat. But I’m thrilled that we took this trip and that I didn’t let Panic or Anxiety keep me from venturing out!

Life is good – I wish the same for all of you!

We’ve been puttering around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a few days now. Maybe a week?

What a wonderful place, so natural and gorgeous. The Great Lakes are amazing – I’ve now, on this trip, seen all five of them!! And been to museums, nature preserves, cafes with the best homemade pie in the world, and I’ve seen chipmunks, deer, gophers, rabbits and untold birds. Wildflowers are rampant!!

I had my first bit of “Anxiety” today – I wrote about it in a comment on Jane’s post. Luckily I didn’t get too far down that dead-end road!!

We have another four days in Michigan then we’ll turn south. Heading for home.

I’m going to continue staying in the present moment because it just FEELS GOOD!

Just a quick note to update – we’re in Ontario, Canada! We’ve driven over 2000 miles already and are enjoying ourselves immensely.

My panic and anxiety has been pretty minimal! Staying in the moment, really being present to where we are and soaking up the place has been key to this serenity!

For the next few days we’ll be in Stratford and attending some Shakespeare plays! There is a beautiful lake with ducks and swans, meditative walking paths and precious birds and flowers and trees to soothe the soul!

The weather has been lovely – though a bit hotter than we’d hoped! 🙂 I think the Canadians are enjoying it though!

More later – hope everyone takes some time this summer to get out and enjoy the season and the nature that is around us! Nature really makes a difference to my anxiety level — keeping it VERY low!

anticipa-a-tion …. (I hope you’re humming that song now!)

This has always been a short path to anxiety for me. Anticipation of an upcoming flight. Anticipation of someone’s reaction. Anticipation of imminent death. Anticipation … fill in the blank.

Well, today is the day before a long trip. My husband and I, new empty-nesters, are heading out on a road trip. Our first ever. We’ll be gone about a month and will travel from Florida up through the Blue Ridge Mountains…up to Niagra Falls….up into Canada. Then north of Lake Huron and west to the Upper Peninsula and over into Minnesota and down the Mississippi River. Careful to avoid flooding etc.

We’ve had fun making some plans and leaving some days entirely plan-free. All home fronts are to be cared for by a variety of helpful people. The car is nearly packed.

Its 4 pm. Ahem. The car is packed. We don’t leave till tomorrow morning. Ahem. Now what?

See, the really interesting thing about this preparation is that I have NOT had anticipation anxiety. At all. I have not imagined the fiery car crashes, the bridges that will give way under us, the hotels felled by terrorist bombs or rogue earthquakes. Nope. I’ve stayed pretty much in the moment – which was to pack. To contact a hotel or box office. To fix lunch. Etc. Very reality based.

I hadn’t realized until just now, seeing how really little there is still to do, that I have not been running ragged or holding my breath. I don’t feel overwhelmed and I don’t feel… well, I don’t feel anxious.

I am starting to see what my various teachers and mentors mean when they say that serenity has a way of sneaking up on you. And so it has.

Holding to a steady meditation practice over the last two years has effected an enormous change in me! I use that term loosely because I don’t sit on a cushion in deep silence for hours on end. No, I do some active visualization, deep and focused breathing techniques and conscious present-moment awareness. I try to do this several times a day.

It may look like I’m not doing much. But, the balanced levels of serenity and excitement tell me otherwise. I have a whole different view of anticipation now!

It’s what I’m feeling about my trip!

I turn 50 in about six weeks. I’ve always enjoyed my milepost birthdays – and have used them as moments of reflection and gratitude. I’m glad to be growing up and to see what happens as the decades pile up. By the time I was 30 I had three daughters. When I turned 40 I had experienced some deep spiritual growth and was well on my way to recovery from Anxiety and Panic!

I am enjoying watching my children grow up; they seem to be getting more independent every day. All are in school or working and all are living independently. They are just about to wake up and realize that they, too, are growing up! 🙂

But I notice a new thought creeping into the periphery of my awareness. My age. Thoughts about the outer edge of it. I wonder things like “How much longer will I be able to do _____?” or “Who will help me when I can no longer _____?”

Right now I am tending to look at these thoughts like odd flowers that bloom in random places. They don’t seem to be coming from any truth-with-a-capital-T sort of place, nor are they attached to some beloved activity that I can no longer do. Having never been much of a mountain-climber I’m not having to give up that sport. No, these thoughts are mostly about much more mundane things, private even. Things like shaving my legs in the shower. Doing my own laundry (especially underthings).

So far, they are not worries. These thoughts do not bring me to my knees in Panic, and maybe they won’t.

But they are the heralds of a new age. They are subjects and concerns about which I have never thought before. I’m not sure I know what to do with them. Bring them up to someone older? Ask them in some anonymous advice column? Join the Senior Citizens Center in my town?

My experiences with Anxiety and Panic have shown me that the ability to stay detached from the thought – and yet hold it in my consciousness – is an important way to keep my sanity! I do not have to address actual issues of self-care and self-sufficiency today. I can be grateful for the things I can do and for my overall good health.

I can also learn about aging and take some broad-based actions that will help me and my family begin the conversations. This is a comforting thought, actually. There are things I can do, and things I can let go of: fretting being top among those!

So, I’ve sent in my membership registration for AARP and joined the mailing list for Elderhostel. WIth these two choices I have decided to learn from others who are a few steps ahead about what to expect. And, with the Elderhostel program, I can continue to learn new things, to travel and to explore the world around me – activities which have always brought me great joy!

And, I think I am declaring here that I will also try to blog periodically about the road I”m on. Just in case someone else out there in the world is also contemplating these things! It is always so helpful to learn that I am not alone.

I’ve often had bouts of extreme anxiety while driving. It can really take me into a lot of fear and keep me from experiencing the freedoms in my life.

So, today I’m driving across my state. Alone. I’m excited about it and I am looking forward to it. I love my car, I have some great diversions (books on CD, music, etc) and I am very much looking forward to seeing my brother and his family.

It makes me pause, though, minutes before I take off. What if…..? And I won’t bore anyone with all the disasters that come to mind.

I try to use metaphors to understand my fears, and I do believe that the idea of moving, driving, going is part of the fears I have always associated with getting on with life. Being a solitary type of person, I’m more comfortable sitting in cozy spot with a book, or puttering in my very familiar home and feeding birds, or cleaning out a drawer of old discards. Moving into a totally new environment calls all that into question.

Not in any big, life-altering way. Just in a simple, nudging way. Life seems to say – hey, look at me! There’s more out here.

Once I get to where I’m going I love the experiences and the novelty. I have had wonderful travel experiences all over the world – and I would say that “I love to travel.”

And yet, at a cellular level – it is not me. So the more I am aware of who I am, and accept that, I will sense and know that I have an ambivalence about the process. The challenge. The journey.

For a while in my life – during paralytic panic – I just was afraid I’d die.

Now, I know it is more about a simple challenge, an encouraging challenge.

Setting it down in writing seems to help me cope with the fears a bit. I feel like I’m putting the fear into a context that doesn’t have to overwhelm me. I don’t have sweating palms or a headache or a racing heart — and for this I’m grateful.

And for now – I’m just setting off!

My experiences with Panic and Anxiety seem to loop between body and soul.

I often have a physical symptom – a pain, a lump, a soreness and it is then that Panic and Anxiety that develop a kind of net around it. A sort of web of thought and fear and feeling.

I then have a kind of knot. Symptom and anxiety tangled together and my thoughts get like a frenzied pair of hands yanking and pushing and probing and frustration mounts.

Then, on the really good days, a single silky thread leads to soul.

Breathing and meditation, slowness and space enter the picture.

I become aware of all the parts of my body that are okay. That feel really good. The blood flows smoothly and the lungs fill and release with seamless life. Small bits of space or light open up in the dark knot.

And the simplest, yet most profound, thought emerges from this soul place. It’s just a headache. Or it’s just a muscle cramp. Oh yeah.

I’m okay.

I’m fine.

There is an excellent article by Dr. Oz in the November “Oprah” magazine about healthy aging. It outlines a 2 week program for healthy living – with an eye toward sustainable living for a high quality older person. I was skeptical when I started reading it (at the hair salon) but was amazed as I got into it.

Along with the standard exercise and proper eating bits, I was struck by how much of the article is focused on meditation, self-awareness and stress-relief. From a medical doctor! Each day there are suggestions on ways to first recognize and then relieve stress. He emphasizes how detrimental stress and anxiety are to the body.

So much of the article, and the plan, are centered around things it has taken me YEARS to learn!! They are simple and easy to follow. There are no large start up costs (although I disagree with his suggestion to buy a blood pressure cuff!) and no fads or fancy things to buy.

Give it a read — I found it very heartening to see such a sound, common-sense and helpful article in the mainstream media!

It really irritates me when I find myself affected by negative people. When others choose to focus on some slight they perceive or something they don’t understand and they take it personally — then they demand redress, changes and an overabundance of attention. I find this kind of irritation gets under my skin and bothers me a little … a little more… and then, if I”m not attentive it can really honk me off.

It’s my responsibility to keep a steady flow of peace in my life. To see the irritations and let them go. To recognize that some problems are truly none of my business and have nothing to do with me. It is my attaching something (my irritation perhaps?) to the problem that gets me involved. I don’t know exactly why I think I have to understand other people so deeply. Or why I think it is helpful for me to get involved in issues that bother others so much. Probably some “superman complex” of mine – I want to save them from their own pain. Sheesh!

For me to have serenity and calmness in my life others don’t have to change their behavior or even do things differently. I can see the reality of a problem for what it is. Negativity, immaturity, fear. And then I can choose to look at something else. If I try hard enough I can often come to a place where I feel compassion for someone who is caught up in this kind of vicious cycle of negativity and anger. My life is better for this practice.

And lately, I’ve had a lot of chances to practice this! Ha!

"Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it." -- Mark Twain

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