Excitement is a fire emotion, a take action emotion. So is anxiety. At the emotional level, they are both arousal feelings. At the spiritual level, they are both the element of fire. Except that with anxiety, instead of feeling inspired, we are stopped dead in our tracks, we back away, our fire remains unfulfilled.
One week before I was to lead my very first retreat, 10 years ago, I was really nervous. And I was frustrated with myself because up to that point I had been really excited about finally making this dream of mine a reality. But it didn’t feel so good now, I even thought of canceling the program.
At the time I was working closely with Laura Kealoha, a Kahuna from Kauai, so I called her for some advice. She said: “Have you considered that this feeling you are having might actually be excitement, but it just feels different? Focus your anxiousness into a concrete action toward your goal, just as you would with your enthusiasm. Use that nervous feeling and put it into taking care of the details of the retreat, making handouts, finding imagery, writing the schedule, whatever is left to do. That energy you feel wants and needs to be actualized.” That simple yet brilliant piece of advice has stayed with me ever since.
See, before it is influenced by the judgments and fears of the outside world, the fire of our solar plexus is pure excitement. The excitement of newness, of adventure, and the possibility of making something, of creating. A healthy solar plexus chakra is an adventurous spirit, willing to take risks, to give it all up to create something new. It is engaged, daring, fearless. As young children, we engaged this impulse in the body with delight and exuberance. It was pure creativity.
Growing up, we begin to call the fire of excitement as nervousness, and eventually, we call it anxiety. We become more averse to taking risks because we fear failure, being judged, disappointing others, or losing people with care about.
As adults, this creative fire in our solar plexus is still there, it never really left, it's our light. But when we feel it rising, we fear its meaning, and we suppress it. Instead of seeing the positive things that could come out of making a change or putting ourselves out there, all we see are the things that could go wrong, what I could lose, and how unsafe that would feel.
We know it well: the intensity in the body rises, we hold our breath which doesn’t allow for the fire to do its transmutation work or to let us know we are safe. Our attention moves away from our body, goes into our thoughts and the next thing we know we are not in control anymore, and all of our being is engaged in a fight to flight response. The same fire that once was exciting and joyful, is now scary.
I remember asking a client this question: What if your dream, what you genuinely want, actually comes true, how would you feel? Think about it. You get the book contract with the perfect publisher, you are able to purchase the house you have always wanted, you get recruited for your dream job, or you have the stage at Super Soul Sunday… whatever it is... how would it make you feel? She said with delight on her face: I would be so excited! And then her face changed, and she said: I would probably be a little anxious. She wanted to feel excited, but that feeling bumped up against her sense of worthiness and her belief in her own capacity.
When we are nervous about doing something that is really meaningful but scares us, we are engaging the fire of our solar plexus that is giving us the energy and the vitality to engage this moment. Without the fire, the moment would be flat, lifeless. The trick is to address this energy, look at it, question it, and engage. Give it an outlet.
This is easier said than done, I know that! If you are having a panic attack, knowing this info won't be very useful. It’s tough to bring ourselves down from that place. But in addition to deepening the breath, slowing it down, and bringing your attention to the base of your spine, one thing I find works well is instead of trying to take the emotion from anxiety to calm, try to shift it to an emotion that vibrates at the same frequency, like excitement. Tell yourself, out loud: “I am excited.” And smile. I found that to be so empowering, like I had tapped into a superpower I didn’t know I had.
Three years ago I was backstage about to open for Wayne Dyer, and I felt that familiar feeling rising in me. My thoughts were running wild: “who do you think you are speaking in front of all these people who came to see him, not you. What do you even have to say that is helpful or even interesting." I caught the flu 5 days before, and I was still quite sick, so everyone would understand if I bailed. But I remembered what Laura said. I knew that really, deep down, I was freakin' excited about this! I wanted this really badly. The anxiety was my own self-doubt about my ability to do what I know I came here to do. My ego was doing its job, trying to protect me from what it thought was an imminent threat. But in reality, my soul was dancing with joy, and this fire in my belly was its way to tell me that it was with me all the way.
To this day, every time I am about to step on stage, I hear the self-doubt voice. It’s still there. I don’t try to make it go away. That makes it stronger. I say hi to it. I acknowledge it, I love it, I express my gratitude for what it has done for me, keeping me “safe” all those years. I tell it that it can come along for the ride… but my heart is going to lead today, my soul will guide this thing.