We're so close to something big happening, some kind of change. I can feel it. But at the same time, change seems infinitely far away. It feels like Groundhogs' day every day. In the last ten months, I've had moments of feeling okay, even kind of evolved in my perspective about the teachings of life in a pandemic. But I'm not feeling like that right now. I am heavy and dark and carrying the weight of it all right at the center of my chest. It feels like a ten-inch lead cube wedged right at my sternum, sharp and pushing up and down and to either side. I know it is anxiety. I know, because I can psych myself out of it. When I laugh I can breathe. When I am writing I can breathe. When I am doing craft projects or baking I can breathe. It's when I am talking to someone about the news or looking at my calendar trying to make plans or lying in bed in the dark before falling asleep, following one rabbit hole of fear after another, that I cannot breathe deeply and fully.
The more I lean into my anxiety and fear, the more I understand about it. I still struggle with my heavy, tight chest, but I am learning more about it. I am unveiling new truths about how to welcome the anxiety and form a relationship with it. The more curious I become about my anxiety, the more I can see what is on the other side. A week ago my friend Genessa and I decided to do a cold plunge on Sunday morning. We went down to Lake Washington at 8 am and dove in. It was freezing but invigorating. We decided to do it again the next day and the next and the next. We've done it every day for a week (I missed two mornings and her one for work), and it's become something I look forward to doing at the beginning of my day. My sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia even joined in two days in a row.
What I notice about the plunge is that there is much to learn in the moments right before the plunge and right after, but the greatest teaching is in the one second of actual submersion. Right before diving in, I feel afraid, resistant. I don't want to be that cold. I could just turn around and put on my robe. But then, almost like tricking myself, I do it anyway. As quickly as I dove in, I rear up out of the cold water, screaming, running for shore. I am elated, excited, flooded with happiness. In that moment I can do anything. I am exactly where I should be.
In that moment between the fear of diving in and the joy of popping back out, there is complete and utter stillness, like pausing a movie or a total blackout. The shock of the cold water is so forceful that, for a moment, I lose all of my memories of the past and worries for the future. I am completely present to that singular moment between fear and safety, warmth and cold, resistance and triumph.
In that split second, I am the confluence of all of those opposite thoughts and sensations and emotions at the same time. And it's like a magic portal opens and there, on the other side, awaits joy. I can breathe deeply and fully into both lungs. The giant lead cube shrinks to a spec. I can see, in technicolor, the sky above me, the pebbles on the beach, the geese flying just above the water. I can feel the air on my skin, the gentle wind tickling the droplets of lake water. I can hear the laughter of Genessa and Lucia, their joy meeting mine like a wave as we all make our way towards shore.