Reflections from the John Muir Trail 2020: Part II - Appreciation and Gratitude shift fear and anxietyRead Now
As I mentioned in the previous blog post, the first few days on the trail I experienced an inordinate amount of fear and anxiety, particularly in the evenings and throughout the night. The fear was so fierce that I wasn't able to enjoy any of my time. I was reeling in a flood of anxiousness and reactivity. My desperation lead to exhaustion night after night.
One night in particular my catastrophizing mind thoroughly convinced me that I was doomed--that this would be my last night alive. (This was before I worked with the Just Five Breaths practice.) I was certain that I would become the meal of a wild animal!
At some point I woke to realize: If this is my last night on earth, do I really want my final thoughts to be of fright and dread?
If something was going to happen, if something or someone was going to 'get me' and ravage my body, I wasn't going to let it get the preciousness of my final thoughts and attention--the very inclination of my mind. No. If anything, on my deathbed, I want to be in appreciation of this magnificent life I've had the grace to live.
My choice became clear: let catastrophizing thoughts continue to overwhelm me until I was frozen solid in fear or actively engage in an appreciation and gratitude practice.
I chose the latter, because really, swimming in fear and the soup of chemicals that circulate through the body from anxiousness and nervousness would most likely not change the outcome of a harrowing middle-of-the-night encounter with an attacker. I would be in fight/flight/freeze, which could potentially help me fend off an attacker, but really unlikely if it were a bear, cougar or a determined violent human, particularly one with a weapon. And besides, the chemicals would leave me tasting acrid and yucky to a bear or cougar. And if I were to become a meal for one of my mammal brethren, I would want to be a good tasting one. (<<==Can you tell I had plenty of time in the evenings to think these things through?!)
But, really, as I thought about it, for my final moments, I'd prefer to be in wakefulness and love. The more I thought about it, the more I got angry--at myself, at the situation, at the nature of the mind.
I soon made the choice with a growing determination--Dammit, I'm not going to give up these final moments to fear!
With traveling being one of the things I enjoy most in life, I turned to writing a list of the places I've been. Let's see....Mexico City, Acapulco, Chicago, New York (x2), Cuzsco and Machu Picchu in Peru, Hawaii (x2), and on...
Within a short period of time, my mind was filled with delightful memories of places and cultures and situations. Hmmm.....China, India, England, Peru, Cambodia, Nepal, and of course, Italy.
What a gift! I hadn't realized cumulatively how much I'd traveled and the cultures I've been graced to experience.
Then there was the beauty of natural features on the planet--Zion, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Tetons, and of course, Yosemite. My goodness, the preciousness of this earth! The unfathomable beauty in rock formations, water, plants and trees. It's breathtaking--astounding. And I've got to experience so much of it!
These precious moments of reflection of the goodness in my life. If my life ended tonight, I thought, then holding gratitude for what I cherish from my experiences was the best way I could think of to incline my mind. There's been enough goodness in my life to last many lifetimes! And I had barely touched on the relationships involved in the travel. My goodness, that list would go on and on!
It didn't take long for the chemical balance in the body to shift to pleasantness and joy--if it ended that night, at least I was basking in the gratitude and joy from reflection of meaningful and treasured memories.
Each time I awoke that night--and it was many times until the wee hours of the morning--I went back to recalling events and people I could be grateful for in life. And, of course, I survived. I survived with a few less precious moments of my remaining life spent in wasteful fear. In fact, it help shift and expand my capacity to bring present moment appreciation to the experience unfolding before me as it unfolded. (It also helped prepare me for the actual encounters I had with bears, which is a story for a future post!)
So this is a strategy that can be turned to again and again when the mind kicks into catastrophizing. And one with innumerable benefits!
How about you? If you were to undertake this practice and reflect on the most meaningful experiences from your life, what would those be? I'd love to see you post some here and then notice what happens in your experience as you do.
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher specializing in disaster and trauma resiliency and learning the self through nature. As a mindfulness-based life coach, she helps others align heart, mind and body with their deepest values and intentions to live a deeply authentic life they can truly love.
JoAnn lives in the hills of Northern California and travels the world over with her curiosity and teachings. She is the author of Companioning the Sacred Journey: A Guide to Creating a Compassionate Container for Your Spiritual Practice and Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom.
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