Recently, a small black mole appeared on my ankle. I had a sinking feeling when I saw it. A biopsy and a personal call from the doctor confirmed that the spot was indeed cause for concern and I would need surgery to remove a larger section of the surrounding tissue.
I got the news the day before I left to lead a weeklong yoga retreat in Maui. I wouldn’t be able to practice yoga for at least three weeks after the procedure, so the doc told me to enjoy my vacation and we would schedule surgery when I got back. Enjoy my vacation? Obviously, the doctor didn’t know me well enough to know that you can’t say the words melanoma and enjoy Maui in the same sentence.
My mind instantly started spinning. One moment I was blissfully packing for a trip to paradise and the next, I was packing for what might be the last trip of my life. My thoughts dragged me down a slippery slope of what ifs. What if it’s cancer? What if the surgery doesn’t remove it all? What if I need chemotherapy and lose all my hair? What if I need to have my foot amputated?
Each thought was feeding on the negativity of the last, sending me down a deep, dark rabbit hole. The fact that my mom died last year from cancer only made the rabbit hole deeper and darker. As I boarded the plane to Maui, I asked myself the most important what if. What if I released my fears and allowed myself to be fully present? My retreaters deserved my full presence and so did I. The truth was, I felt great. I could still spread my toes on my yoga mat, stretch my arms up to the sky and breathe in gratitude for the blessing of this moment.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us “Heyam duhkham anagatam.” Pain that has not yet come is avoidable. If we allow our present to be filled with the fear of future suffering, we suffer twice.
As author and activist Corrie ten Boom beautifully put it, “Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength - carrying two days at once. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” There is no more powerful medicine than making peace with the unknown of tomorrow and saving our strength for today.
As I sit here writing this, the dull ache in my ankle from the surgery I had upon my return, reminds me that I am still alive and more whole than ever before. And that rabbit hole? It no longer exists, because this time, the call from the doctor came back all clear.
Here are 5 ways to let go of your fears and embrace the peace of the present:
1. Practice yoga.
Yoga provides a physical outlet for the release of emotional anxiety. The mind has a hard time wandering when you're firmly anchored to the presence of your body and your breath.
Find a quiet space to sit still and just be. Be present to the sound and sensation of your breath. Observe your thoughts and let them come and go without attachment or judgment. If you feel yourself starting to identify with a thought, simply draw your awareness back to your breath to ground you in the present.
3. Every day, write down three things for which you are grateful.
As Eckhart Tolle says “Pain can only feed on pain. Pain cannot feed on joy. It finds it quite indigestible.” Eradicate your fears by inviting gratitude and joy into your life.
4. Acknowledge & accept.
That which we resist, persists. Sometimes the simple act of acknowledging what we fear is the most powerful way to release us from its hold. If your fears are rational, like a serious illness, first accept whatever the situation is. (Note that acceptance does not mean giving up or giving in!) Use this acceptance as a way to move into positive action.
5. Try light visualization.
Darkness cannot survive in the presence of light. When you feel dark thoughts creeping in, visualize yourself as light. See a tiny ember of white light glowing in your belly. Fan this ember with slow, rhythmic breaths and watch the ember grow into radiant white light. Let this light radiate out from your center, flooding your entire body in a brilliant bath of healing light.
Photo Credit: Sandy Foster of Yoga Bliss Photo