I sat in therapy the other night, drowning in a bout of anxiety, thoughts running rampant in my head, talking in circles to my therapist. I rambled through uncomfortable thoughts from the preceding days, digging up what felt like long lost childhood memories, subconsciously but palpably connected to the feelings of the present.
I shared with him the shame that came from being so caught up in the thoughts that tornadoed in my mind, circling about an eye of objective analysis in which I tried to find some relief from the storm.
“I wish I was different,” I said to him. “I wish my mind didn’t work this way.”
“That’s quite a sad thought,” he mirrored back to me, succinctly but profoundly, “to wish you were different.”
He was right. But I hadn’t realized it until the present just how profoundly sad it that was. His interjection halted my thoughts, and he beckoned me to sit with that sadness, instead of allowing the thoughts to circle in my mind, only distracting me from what was really going on.
“Let’s just take a second to notice what’s going on in the environment,” he said to me. “What do you notice?”
I sat quietly, staring out the window, frustrated and resistant to the change in approach.
“I notice everything,” I said back to him. “I don’t know where to start.”
“Do you notice the music playing outside?” he asked.
I replied in the affirmative, and he continued to query about other parts of the environment. I stared out the window somewhat blankly, trying to look as far away as I could. Far off in the distance, the hills of San Francisco sparkled, orange and white lights scattered in a balanced asymmetry.
“I notice those lights far in the distance,” I said reluctantly, only revealing to him a small sampling of the words that rang in my mind’s ears. In reality, I noticed much more than that. Yes, I noticed the lights, but I also imagined the people that sat underneath them, families and individuals, finishing dinner and watching TV, walking on hardwood floors amidst the neon rays of nighttime television. I redirected my eyes towards him.
“I notice the pink orchids behind you,” I continued, their contrast to the dull, beige walls catching my attention.
My gaze traveled back out the window, resting upon the buildings we could see from the eighth floor.
“I notice the two red lights on top of that building,” I said laughing, my face beginning to get hot, a startling realization creeping up. I was suddenly aware of my entire body, of the gravity that pulled the backs of my legs into the fabric of the chair, of the force of earth pulling my right foot to the ground while my left ankle rested atop my right knee. Most of all, I became aware of the sadness to which he referred—the sorrow that comes along when one wishes to be so different.
My throat became tight, and the tickle of nascent tears crept into the space behind my cheekbones. My vision became blurry, the images in front of me warped and refracted by the excess water in my eyes. By engaging with and feeling the sadness, I became aware of something quite startling, something I’ll be forever grateful that this minute of mindfulness—this minute of noticing—brought to me.
It turned out that, with time, this circling of thoughts that manifested itself as anxiety had become a coping mechanism for the uncomfortable thoughts and memories that seemed to be writing a life’s-worth of narratives. Instead of feeling, I analyzed. Instead of staying grounded, I floated upwards, into my head. Analyzing the root causes of my anxiety made me believe I was solving problems, that I was figuring something out, when in reality, it was keeping me from what was right in front of me, whether it was my own profound sadness or some bright pink orchids against a dull, beige wall.
I think we all look for answers and that we all try to solve problems. And perhaps that’s all good and well some of the time. But what I got from my minute of mindfulness is that, perhaps, there comes a time when we don’t need to find the answers; we don’t need to explain what’s happening or has happened to us.
Instead, maybe what’s most necessary is that we stop searching and recognize that the universe has given us all we really need—even if it’s a few lights in the distance, asymmetrical, yet balanced—to simply be alright.