Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

The decay of anxiety

It has been another wonderful end-of-the-summer day. I went out on a two block walk and the thing that most caught my attention was the wind rustling the leaves. Now, most of the leaves are green though a few forlorn apple trees have lost their dressings, but most of the green maples just shift their leaves in the wind and I look up, catching the underside of seeds yet to twirl down on us.
The wind does move. It is definitely time when feelings are changing and the maples and the oaks and the cottonwoods are anticipating the upcoming autumn. For when the wind passes through the trees, it sounds like all sorts of dryness and I expect a dozen leaves to come lazily catching in my hair after a descent- but they don’t. So it’s some sort of secret that all of us are hiding, this anticipation of the upcoming cold. We whisper it between ourselves but no one says anything outright about it yet. Except the apple trees and they look very bare and quite neglected. They rushed to the party and now they’re burrowing into their darker thoughts, sitting the evening out.
I took another walk this evening, this time, a very short walk. I can’t walk very far still but that’s okay. I can still roam around a little. In my thoughts were possible avenues of escape when a sort of soft-edged anxiety comes bumbling around in my head. It’s not a large sort of panic, really. It’s the grandmother-ly type, the type my mother’s mother and my mother’s grandmother were notorious for. Their mantra was “oh dear, oh dear, oh dear”, in soft sweet chiming tones. My own form of anxiety is something akin to it. It’s the side glance of everything around me. The possible diminish and demise of toilet paper is peril fraught, the cat fur in the carpet is a growing outrage. The dvds taken out from the library cease to be entertainment and turn into duty and the delightful books, that promised so much when I took them from the shelves are now heavy tomes bound around my neck. The simplest, the nicest things turn into chores and it seems that so often, I go around with ashes in my mouth. I throw away so much energy towards work and then stumble around, frantically cleaning and sorting and cleaning and reading and knitting and watching and…everything is a chore. Ashes in the mouth.
And now, it seems, that recovery is like recovery always is: telling yourself something else very distinctly and sticking to it. For me, it is something like…”everything is just fine. Everything has a place.” and pointedly thinking of something else, like a funny line from a book or a particularly nice flower I saw. It’s almost maddening how simple it is to fight anxiety. There’s no artillery, no flying bombs, no helicopters with black suited people getting out with state-of-the-art rifles. It’s just thinking differently and being stubborn about it. And already, just from a simple walk and a simple plan, I was reading an old addition of my favorite magazine and it hit me: “It is pleasant knowing that there are things to do.” It is pleasant knowing that I have to prune the rose bush, sweep the kitchen floor, figure out what to do with my mini shelves that sit out in the rain. It’s not like anything is going anywhere- the rose sure isn’t and the dirt on the kitchen floor is resolved to stick around and the shelves don’t scream in the rain.
If I feel this way tomorrow I don't know, but it is a start.

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The Taste of Tea

A favorite film of mine, The Taste of Tea, centers on an eccentric family living in the Japanese countryside. They spend a great deal of time sitting outside, sipping tea and staring into space. They sit as a family, alone, or in a small group and no one talks. They just stare out into the deep green that is the summer. And then they get up and go on walks or go off to work.

The first time I watched The Taste of Tea, I was shaken and delighted that the film gave space and respect to one of my favorite pastimes: sipping tea and staring into space.

When spring grew warm enough, I was inspired by the film to sit outside and stare into my backyard in the early morning. The Taste of Tea had given me a sort of permission to leave stress behind and take this time for one of my deepest desires: to enjoy and contemplate nature while sipping tea.

I named my new practice “Sipping Tea and Watching the Grass Grow.” I felt ridiculous whenever I mentioned it to anyone but that hardly mattered. I was doing what I loved so much, watching plants grow, watching the birds and small animals moving through it all, and sky glowing blue and serene over us all.

 

Grass grows slowly, imperceptibly but after each rain, it leaps up by inches. The violets came in May and they lasted for weeks. After that the dandelions bloomed and I lost a little bit of my heart to them. The wind picked up their seeds and sent the white fluffs floating into the air in sweet, downy clouds. After that, small wild strawberries, glowing like fierce red gems, appeared in the lawn. Now at the end of June, a luxurious, emerald green covers nearly everything. It reaches up from the ground, covering fences and stones or it high overhead, green leaves moving in tall, imperceptible breezes.

 

The heat has settled in so now even in the mornings, I pour sweat while drinking my tea. On some mornings the birds are noisy and busy and on other days they are not. Sometimes a great big bumblebee comes tumbling along, droning in that low, hazy buzz as it investigates every surface and flower. And then sometimes it does not come. Some days the clouds are like fluffs of cotton, other days there isn’t a cloud in sight. Each day brings a new configuration, nature is never still. I watch it all and at other times, I close my eyes and listen to my breathing. I’m not alone, never alone, a part of a whole.

A Tale of Two Worlds

I walk past a window on my way to get a glass of water and note the snow falling outside.  As I fill my glass at the sink, my thoughts have already turned back to my work on the computer. I’m wrestling with the household budget, when I’ll fit some reading in, how to get on with my writing work, when I’ll exercise, when I’ll catch up with email correspondence and the list goes on and on.

Anytime I stop my work and look up, past the chatter in my mind, the snow catches me off guard as if it’s the first time I’m seeing it. I debate whether I can put off the grocery store to avoid driving in the snow.

This is the world of the everyday. It’s full of a thousand petty cares, some essential to living, others not as much but all in a lump group, tugging us along.

But there are times my mind needs something more refreshing, and it’s time to take a break. And that’s where music comes in—as powerful as Circe creating a circle of magic with her staff. I pick out music without words (or words I don’t understand). Today is Rimsky-Korsakov, tomorrow might be the film Phantom Thread’s soundtrack, or a piece of jazz played by Lucky Thompson.

As Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden starts, the circle opens. I come out of the everyday world and enter somewhere extraordinary, where beauty converges with life and cares and worries exit for a time. And all it takes is a little music, a little snow, and entering the moment that is now.

I watch the snow falling, noting the wind direction as the snow blows southeast and then drops and then exhales again southwards. I note the density of the snow, how it’s light and sparkling and then downy, heavy, and wet.  My thoughts finally still and I turn off the music. A heavy relief passes over my body and mind and I am still, watching the beauty of the world.