You’re in the rapids now. You experience a vortex, a tunneling sensation, heart aching, breath racing. A formless flow rushes around and through your field of perception. Sounds are at times deafening and then muffled, distant. The sheer intensity lifts your eyelids and stings your eyes. Fighting for breath and barely hanging on, you feel yourself speeding through spaces too rough or too slippery to hold you.
Being overwhelmed…psychologically, emotionally, is like this. We’re at the center of a powerful turbulence and we feel lost, paralyzed. It is the essence of being stuck…feeling stuck in such a strong undertow that the sense of powerlessness is palpable and all-encompassing. We feel an onrushing chaos and we want to flee…but we cannot.
And so we succumb, as we have so often in the past. We allow ourselves to go limp, to become numb…in this way we have learned not to feel what is happening that is out of our control. Or else, we become hardened…unnaturally rigid. When we’re threatened…when we feel unsafe…we close ourselves off to what is happening. We create an intentional tunnel and we enclose ourselves within it. Desperately, we try to hide.
Numbed, unfeeling, somnambulant now…we have done this so often it has become an unconscious response to the panic that ensues whenever we sense the chaos, loss of control, the threats to our sense of safety…we go into a trance…anything to stop the painful sensations…
Of course, we can’t stop anything. The sense of being out of control…the dysfunctional energy we apply to our states of confusion only serves to increase the anxiety and panic.
At some point, though…it can happen, We find ourselves – just for an instant – in a position to observe what is occurring to us. We find a foothold, a ledge upon which to stand. It is as if the very act of observing creates a space of calm in the midst of the whirlpool of emotions and we feel somewhat removed…outside of the experience of intensity…at least enough to catch a breath. In that moment of observing ourselves, we find the panic disappears for brief instants. It is as if we can not experience it and observe it at the same time.
And that existential fact is what saves us…the simple act of observation can rescue us from being totally engulfed by our own emotions. If we can see ourselves, even for a moment, we can save ourselves. One is saved from chaos in only one way- by understanding it. The most significant thing about chaos is that it is not chaotic.
Seeing the state we’re in is something that happens from the river bank, not in the rapids. It’s not that there are two of us, it’s just that we seem able to be…almost…in two places at once. We can be in the middle of an experience…and yet, we can observe that we are having the experience. And the act of observation actually does serve to transport us to a kind of external vantage point – a new view, a fresh perspective on our situation. Through the simple act of seeing, observing, from moment to moment, we become unstuck…
Image: “Entangled,” by Tullio DeSantis, digital image, 2010.