I have a place where I won’t go. I can’t always describe it when I’m there or predict when I get too close to it. But when I get too close to it, I know it. Fear takes over and my brain goes into high gear to pull me out of it. My mouth and my mind disconnect. Anxiety and panic feel like actual physical companions pulling me closer to The Edge.
The edge is a cold place with no signs of warmth or a heart, no comforts. It feels like my survival is at stake. It feels like I have everything to lose. The only thing to gain is to escape and survive. The edge feels like a gigantic cliff that I’m being pulled over. Sometimes I find the edge in a difficult conversation I care deeply about. Sometimes I find the edge at work when I’m worried about generating enough revenue to keep people busy and employed. Sometimes I find the edge when I feel I am being set up to be the bad guy. Sometimes I find the edge when I feel I have something important I may lose. Sometimes I find the edge when I think I will fail. This week I have found the edge when faced with the uncertainty and enormity of COVID-19.
Sometimes I can see when others reach the edge. Their speech patterns change, they become cold, and they only have one way to proceed. In a conversation or argument you are either with them or against them. They give you no room for contribution.
I visualize the edge as a cliff, but I have heard others describe it as a “black hole” or a “wall” or as an “energy sucking vampire”. The edge is a lonely, isolated place. A place of nothing. A place where fear dominates.
If you are looking to be self-aware, you can feel and see the edge, but if not, it feels like a place of judgement, right versus wrong, moving forward or falling behind. In that way it is a place with limited choices and no room to connect or to grow. It’s a place where blame is generated and differences are delineated. The range of reactions goes from panic to denial. Life feels out of control.
For me the edge was built through shame, embarrassment, loneliness, not fitting in, sadness, and an overwhelming fear. These are the things I can’t be with. They are deeply painful experiences and feelings throughout my life that have accumulated and I want to protect myself from them. For many the pain of their negative life experiences is unbearable, resulting from traumas varying from deeply buried to clearly visible. Abuse, shame, disappointment, criticism, sadness, feeling less-than have all piled up so much on top of people, and they haven’t been able to release them. Some of us can’t see the pain or find the words to express it. It becomes part of their life boundaries.
So what does the edge get me? Survival, protection of my image, an artificial persona of togetherness and success. It also prevents me from feeling what I can’t be with. The saying “what you resist persists” comes into my mind. Following this reasoning, the things we haven’t worked out follow us close behind, the edge has the opposite effect of helping me survive. It does the opposite, it drags me down, locking in the shame, embarrassment, feelings of not fitting in, loneliness, sadness, and fear.
How does this relate to fly fishing? I think fly fishing is helping me lower my cliff and process my fears. The peacefulness and beauty of my surroundings calm me. The flowing water helps me visualize and hear the connection of life as it moves. The concentration on my efforts helps my mind break intellectual cycles of rumination and self-preservation. I become connected to the present moment instead of the past pains and my feelings of inadequacy. The same is true for when I’m tying flies, concentrating, learning, creating and having an artistic expression and purpose. I have no expectations to live up to, no overwhelming responsibilities. I’m just in nature, in the river and in the moment. As the streams and rivers flow, it reminds me that life continues, it finds a way. I have to be present and experience the highs and lows, knowing and having faith my path will follow its own way.
I’ve had moments recently in stress at work and in struggling through communication in different relationships where the edge feels like it’s getting too close and I’m about to fall. In those moments I try to imagine that edge as a gentle stream bank that leads to a beautiful run with rising trout. I can also find that space by sitting at the vise to work through a nymph, streamer or dry fly. Through talking to the folks at Project Healing Waters last weekend, it also helped remind me that no matter how steep the edge or how large the black hole that finding moments of beauty, peace and purpose can always bring you back to the river. As we all experience the fear resulting from how we are impacted and process the emotions around the COVID-19 virus, I will rely on the thoughts of the river and I hope everyone can find their own ways to be present and not give into the fears of life.