Horatio: "Oh, day and night! But this is wondrous strange!"
Hamlet: "And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." - Hamlet, Act I, Scene V, 159-167
"And therefore, as a stranger give it welcome." This quote from Hamlet came to me when I was doing my sitting meditation in my mother's garden this morning. I have had mounting anxiety because David and I are approaching our first ultrasound this week. It will be the six week ultrasound, the one where Preston, our reproductive endocrinologist, is looking for what he calls "early cardiac activity" of our embryo. Basically, this is the sonogram where we find out if our pregnancy has a chance. Neither of our others got to the point of having a heartbeat. This is really freaky, because we didn't know until weeks 9 and 11, respectively, that either embryo had died, even though both died around 5-6 weeks. The placenta, not the baby, is what makes most of those lovely pregnancy symptoms, and the placenta continues to grow even sans kid. So, I felt pregnant even though the baby had died. In any case, this is a BFD ultrasound.
I wish I could tell you that I'm all chill about it. That I feel like, "God's will be done," or "It's totally out of my control, so I won't worry." I have moments of grace, but much of the time I feel a knot in my stomach. I recognize that most of it is anticipatory dread: I have had two ultrasounds with disastrous results. As my friend said, "This is operative conditioning: of course you're scared! You've had two terrible experiences." I am definitely remembering "real but not true," though it doesn't always tame the anxiety.
This morning, I tried some of the other techniques I've written about, but none of them were hitting the spot. Then I remembered Tara Brach's "Power of Yes" meditation that she writes about in her book "Radical Acceptance." Basically, instead of doing what I (and most others) usually do -- direct a steady stream of "No, go away!" to anything I have aversion to -- I decided to say "yes" to it. I literally put my right hand on my pounding heart to soothe it, and my left hand on my solar plexus, which is where I seem to most keenly feel anxiety in my body. I said to my anxiety, "Yes, I see you. I understand why you are here." I directed a steady stream of "yes" to it: "Yes, it's ok that you are here. Stay a while, if you need to. I can handle you. Yep, I see you and I feel you." It really took the edge off of the anxiety: I'd say it lowered it from a 7 to a 3, which is a big improvement. Even thinking about this experience now is comforting to me. I instinctively want to run from the sensations of my worry and anxiety; it feels so uncomfortable to me. Spending just 15 minutes dwelling with it today -- welcoming the stranger, to paraphrase Shakespeare (or Rumi!) -- reminded me that I can handle it. I may not like the feeling, but I can be with it, and be ok.
I will also give a nod to the power of positive distraction when you are worried about something you cannot change. I am losing myself in my knitting and Downton Abbey, and those activities soothe me and distract me in healthy ways. However, these types of distractions feel much more wholesome to me when held in the larger context of awareness; it feels good to pay my seemingly unwelcome "strangers" a little mindful attention, too.