I’m not sure which tense to use here. I want to write, “I used to be a very anxious person,” but I feel that’s akin to an alcoholic saying, “I used to be an alcoholic.” Anxiety, like alcoholism, is a lifelong problem that you learn to manage, steering between successes and failure with as much grace as possible. Anxiety is forever lurking on the fringes, but I have come to view it as an old friend—a mostly ornery friend, but one still capable of teaching me new lessons.
Flying was/has always been/will probably always be a trigger, but I’ve never let it stop me from travelling (my two-month sabbatical last year included eight flights, don’t tell my mother). A few years ago, I committed to reconciling myself to the necessity of sitting in a tin tube that glides thousands of feet up in the air. But the process I undertook not only eased my anxiety and made it easier for me to fly—it also resulted in a theory of love that’s transforming my every day.
Understanding perfectly that none of us can control when or how we’ll die, the first question I could realistically tackle was, What is the last thought you want to have before you die?
The easy answer being, love.
But if I can’t know when I’m going to die, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be thinking loving thoughts. What if I’m inner-complaining about another driver? Or fuming at a troll? The only plausible answer was, I have to think loving thoughts at all times. After a laughing fit that seemingly lasted a day, I looked hard at the impossibility of always thinking loving thoughts. The word always, with its high expectations and obstinate promises, has been the source of my anxiety for many years, imposing an illusion of control that can never be attained.
I didn’t want another always, but I know I could handle as often as possible.
I decided to remind myself (as often as possible) to think loving thoughts. The logic being, if I can remind myself as much as possible, I will then inevitably increase the number of loving thoughts that I do have. And the more loving thoughts I have, the more often I will want to have them. Could having more loving thoughts impact my relationship to myself, my interactions with others and even my health?
Not surprisingly, the answer was yes, on all counts.
As time passes, this reminder has become automated, internalized, and I’ve learned that it’s not a stretch to have a loving thought. When all else fails, I go out for a walk and say hello to dogs or go to the grocery store and look at the colours of the vegetables. Triggers for loving thoughts are everywhere. There are probably three triggers around you right now, if you stop and look.
Go ahead, I’ll wait. Just remember to report back. While I wait, I’m going to lovingly make a cup of espresso.