Dealing With Stress – Part 1

September 13, 2011 at 8:18 pm Leave a comment

This summer I produced a film – The Power. The last time I produced something similar was in the late 90s, so it has been many years since I experienced the intensity of production. Not only that, but The Power was made with very little cash, so the effort to make the film, and bring it in on budget was immense. The days started early and finished late, and there were very few days off. Eating times were haphazard, and sometimes food was not on hand or had to be snatched. I was on the film from Mid-May to the beginning of  September, and I have not worked this hard for many years or subjected myself to so much pressure.

Towards the end of August, I noticed that I was being affected by the combination of too much work and too much stress. I woke up some mornings with a pain in my solar plexus; I found myself making multiple trips to the toilet, and I was starting to feel my nerves getting strained. I was especially concerned about a feeling of ‘butterflies’ or sore tenderness in my kidneys. I had never before had a response like this to a bout of hard work, and I wondered if it was my age that was the cause of this. After all, 67 is not the ideal age to be undertaking the effort of making a low budget film, with all the responsibilty that that entails.

I got back home from Norwich (where we were shooting the film) on a Tuesday night in early September, having closed the production down. Now it is 7 days later, and I am starting to feel better, more like my normal state. However, I have found it almost impossible to do any sustained work during this week, and have found the idea of going online and answering emails almost repellent. It was clear that I needed a lot of rest, but besides trying to get a lot of sleep (and wake up later than 6:00 am), I needed to do a lot of breathing meditation to calm my system and get some kind of balance back to my body/mind.  I also needed to get my eating both more regular and consume more fruit and veg. I also needed to start exercising again, something I have not been able to do while the film took over my life.

The first couple of days had me feeling very tired and lazy, and the nights were full of dreams about the film – anxiety dreams associated with the film showing that it was still dominating my mind. I often woke early – at 3:00 or 4:00 am – and on waking could feel that constriction in the solar plexus, although it was not as strong as it was during the nights of the production. I managed to breathe into this constriction and to calm it down ( or in some way open it up). Later I realised that this contriction, which I feared was a possible heart pain, was in fact emanating from the gall bladder. The area of the solar plexus has so many organs of the body operating there that it is diffficult to work out which parts of the body are causing the problem there. And it may be that the problem is that all the organs are not working well, so that it is a symphony of dysfunction that is really happening. For example, you have the diaphragm there, which in many people is not moving freely, thereby causing either pain or poor functioning at that spot (either in the front or back of the body). There are also vertebrae there which can be a problem for many people – sciatica can be caused by nerves being trapped by these vertebrae. Then there is the large intenstine, which traverses the abdomen at this point, and of course the top of the stomach is also running through here, and the spleen and liver are also there. It is like the spaghetti junction of the body. All these organs packed into a small space, and all trying to function. But which ones are not working properly, and why?

If I wake early like this, and realise that I am not going back to sleep, I try to breathe/meditate in bed. I might do this for 2-3 hours, or until I feel sleepy and turn over and go back to sleep. So how do I do this, and what is the process?  Firstly I take a ‘sleeping’ meditation posture. I lay on my back, arms and legs held out from the body at an angle of 30 degrees or so, and I place my thumb inside a ‘soft fist’. I start by laying my head on the two pillows that I sleep with, but as the meditation continues I usually take one pillow away (leaving a slightly raised platform for my head) , and sometimes I also take away the second, laying my head directly on the mattress. Having taken this position, I start to breath in and out. I breath in through the nose and breath out either through the nose or through the mouth. My eyes are closed.

After a couple of minutes I realise that I am not relaxed enough, especially regarding thoughts that arise, so I deliberately focus on my eyes, and try to relax them by ‘turning them inwards’ – that is, allowing my eyes to relax in their sockets, and to stop focussing out, but instead allowing them to focus in, and to follow the breath as it enters my body and travels down to the ‘dan tien’, the area a couple of inches below the navel. Once I feel the breath flowing through my eyes and down into the dan tien with some regularity, then I know my body is starting to relax. Soon I become aware that my arms are feeling heavier on the bed and there is the feeling that the breath is able to travel through the eyes and into the arms, descending down to the softly clenched fists. At this point this is not really breath, but is in fact chi, the energy that powers the body. It is chi that I feel going down to the dan tien, and chi that I feel descending through the arms.


To Be continued

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Reflections on an age of anxiety.


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