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An Antidote for The Age of Anxiety

An Antidote for The Age of Anxiety
and a free audio exercise

Humans are arguably the most adaptable of animals. We live in arid deserts, frozen tundra, overpopulated cities and outer space. Adaptability has been the cornerstone of our survival; but it also has a dark side. Sometimes we habituate in ways that are corrosive to our well-being. As songwriter Bruce Cockburn put it, “The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”

For example, we have come to accept the constant presence of anxiety in our lives as a normal part of our human condition. It runs through our beings like an undercurrent – edgy, restless, unfocussed. As with any form of fear, our anxiety is reactive rather than responsive. That is, it is not moderated by wholeness. It is ungrounded.

As our entire culture normalizes to anxiety, reactivity becomes the norm – the world around us feels like it’s being pulled apart at the seams. That’s where we find ourselves now: ours might be dubbed The Age of Anxiety.

The question is, what can we do about it?

The answer is as easy to point to as it is elusive to implement. We’ve heard it often enough: just become grounded; find inner peace; just be present. The evident solutions make sense, but how to actually move towards them is another matter.

Our stumbling block in that regard is that we’ve normalized to a stubborn denial of the body’s intelligence. We have come to believe that thinking happens exclusively in the head; living by that belief, we resist the body’s sensational intelligence and become mired in a world of abstractions. And when we subdue the body’s intelligence like that, we slide inescapably into anxiety.

Consider this: when we restrict our thinking to the abstracting realm of the head, everything begins to feel abstract. Our very lives come to feel abstract. We feel disconnected from reality. And that state foments anxiety; and that state feels normal to us.

The intelligence of the body doesn’t disappear. It’s always there. It feels and knows things that utterly elude the restless, anxious intelligence of the head. It knows how intimately we belong to the living world around us. It feels the sensitivity coursing through each moment of the present and knows how to join that sensitivity. And it knows that resting in that sensitivity dissolves the relentless tug of anxiety that is our constant companion, and enables us to open to the tangible embrace of the borderless moment.

The body’s intelligence is our primary intelligence. Reuniting with it, I believe, is the foremost challenge we face as individuals and as a culture. That reunification requires an utterly personal journey of discovery – a journey that necessarily moves counter to the cultural instructions we’ve grown up with. I’d like to offer you a doorway into that journey, a simple exercise that is foundational in all of my workshops and programs.

Click the play button to listen to the exercise – and see where it takes you, or how it affects your sense of being grounded, or if it seems to bring you to a place in which anxiety doesn’t have much hold.  I’d be interested to hear back!

The Trickle-down

12 thoughts on “An Antidote for The Age of Anxiety”

  1. It’s a lovely exercise, and it did bring me to a state of restfulness.
    But I was taken aback at some details of the imagery, and struggled with it — the idea of energy becoming liquid and “pooling” in my feet and legs was very unpleasant.

    I sometimes experience swollen ankles and feet, and I’ve often seen this in other people, both men and women, younger and older. And pooled liquid also felt so heavy! So in the midst of the exercise I had to scramble a bit to try to change that image of liquid energy “pooling” in my feet and legs.
    Is there another way to express this?

    Could it be something like energy becoming like star-dust or gold-dust 🙂 and “gently settling”? Maybe “gently settling” and “gently swirling”? Maybe something not so heavy, not so much like edema? Other than that, I much appreciated the exercise. 🙂

    1. Philip Shepherd

      Hey, Mary Ann, you are absolutely on the right track in adapting the exercise to what your body asks for. I like “star dust” and “gold dust”. Whatever image works best for you is the one to use. The main thing is to feel the body’s energy in some tangible way, and allow it to descend through the body to connect with the earth and settle in the legs and pelvic bowl.

      1. Hi Philip,
        Great! Thank you!
        I’ll try it again, and this time I’ll be ready with my own slight adaptation. 🙂
        Mary Ann

  2. I call it the age of narcissist. Realizing I’ve been surrounded my entire life by these crazy people and never understanding this is what drove my anxiety, it is beautiful now to use amazing techniques. This is beautiful and your voice soothing.

    1. Philip Shepherd

      Thanks for your comment, Bea. You’re right about the narcissism, but I see it slightly differently. We are an implacably self-conscious culture. We self-consciously supervise our thoughts, our bodies, our emotions, our views of other people. I see our narcissism as an expression of that divided state in which we live.

  3. wow….that was awesome! Felt all of that….and the heaviness of the ‘water’ gave me stability and def grounded in for sure!

  4. Hi Philip….lovely to hear your voice again this morning! I do agree about the low level anxiety and have been aware of this shift in my usual grounded place since the River Fire in Northern California almost took our home as we were evacuated for 10 days. Isn’t it strange how we can deeply know these techniques and other ways to ground and then a trauma comes along and throws us off. Mostly, I just wanted to acknowledge that I am still teaching some of your exercises in my work and to let you know how much the concept and knowing of radical wholeness lives in me. Gratitude for your work in the world.

    1. Hey, Marci. I’m slow in replying – just been on the move so much I’ve had to leave some things to catch up on later. Glad to hear your home survived the fire, and also to hear that radical wholeness continues to serve you, in whatever way. Much love, and I hope to catch up in the New Year some time!

  5. I was holding my sleeping newborn so I did the exercise while sitting down. I definitely felt grounded and almost like my anxiety melted and became the energy that dropped down and grounded me. Also, immediately after completing the exercise I felt a distinct pang of hunger in my abdomen and became ravenous for a fresh piece of fruit. Has anyone else experienced something similar through this exercise?

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