Fear and Anxiety
From time to time, Sensei would talk to us about some of the mail he’d received from his students abroad. Here’s what he had to say regarding a student’s question about fear and anxiety.
“Recently a Belgian student sent me a letter asking about my thoughts on the high level of anxiety many people experience daily. In her letter, she said the word “anxiety” came from Latin, and meant ‘a lasting state of fear.’ Obviously fear and anxiety are important topics in the study of Aikido, but these conditions now also touch every level of society in most every country in the world. High levels of nearly constant fear and anxiety are leading to greater disease and increased societal problems as well.
“When you are anxious, you are fearful. When you are fearful, your heart rate and blood pressure rise, your breathing becomes shallow, your focus of attention narrows, and you generate high-frequency brain waves. All of which leads to the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome more and more people find themselves living in.
“In Aikido we see that ‘fight or flight’ winds up manifesting in the roles of ‘attacker’ and ‘victim’, and many people compulsively play out their parts as if on stage. It’s important to note that the roles of attacker and victim are complementary in nature. Attackers need and search out victims, while compulsive victims need and search out attackers. I am sure you’ve seen this dynamic unfold in various family and professional relationships. Many of you come to class not realizing you’re in ‘fight or flight’ mode. The less you recognize this the more you’ll wind up compulsively acting out the roles of attacker or victim in class.
“Over the long term, fear and anxiety lead to a constant sense of emergency and a level of arousal that is unsustainable. On the one hand, if you are hyper alert, you’ll wear out your system and wind up being unable to respond when necessary. On the other hand, constant warning signals generated by your unconscious mind lead you to eventually stop paying attention to the signals. Then, when a real need for action arrives, whether it’s a virus or a belligerent person, your system will fail to respond in a timely manner.
“Take an inventory of yourself now. Is your posture open and expansive? If so, you will tend to feel ready to respond to life.
“Are you taking in lots of oxygen and releasing a complementary quantity of carbon dioxide? If so, you should be feeling at ease.
“Are your muscles relaxed and ready for action? Wild animals and high-performance athletes both know how to fully relax, right up to the moment of necessary action. How about you?
“Are you able to look out on the world with a soft focus gaze and open up to the world looking back at you? You can learn a lot by becoming aware of what and who you tend to avoid looking at.
“Can you hear the sound of a nearby ticking clock as you listen to a favorite piece of music? Is your heart warmed by the sound of a baby laughing? Are you comfortable with the sound of silence?
“When it’s time to eat do you really taste and savor your food? When it’s time to rest can you really let go?
“When you’re sitting in the midst of your every day life, what’s most real for you? Your many problems and fears, or the simple joy of being fully engaged in the here and now?
“Your emotional response to life depends on whether or not you are gently in control of yourself, engaged in heartfelt relationships, and in touch with your surroundings. Your emotional response to life is what determines your health and well-being. I hope you begin and end every day by smiling and saying ‘Yes!’.”
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