I don't know if you ever been to Anglesey but if you have done so you've probably been to or know about the South Stack lighthouse near Holyhead. Just about a mile away there is a prehistoric site called Ty Mawr Hut Circles where you'll find the foundations of some 20 or so stone round houses which are 4,000 years old.
When I visit and I stand near to the huts looking out to sea I wonder what the residents of those huts felt as they looked out at that vast expanse of what must have seemed to them to be a never ending ocean. Was this their edge of the world?
The sea cliffs near the huts seem almost vertical and probably 150 feet high. Running along the top of the cliffs is a narrow concrete path and the seaward side of the path is so close to the edge of the cliff that you can bend your head sideways and look straight down 150 feet. Every few feet there is a vertical piece of scaffold pipe with horizontal scaffold joining the vertical pipes together. There's no netting or any other protection between the scaffold pipes so it would be easy if you were not mindful to go over the edge particularly when you consider the strong and blustery winds that the area experiences.
Now, as you might have guessed, I've been there a few times because I find the experience of connecting with those long gone ancestors moving and meaningful.
I wouldn't consider myself to be a be overanxious but each time I approach that path I become aware of a feeling of anxiety growing in me. It's interesting to notice this and how I respond to it. As you might imagine I find myself paying mindful attention to all the potentially dangerous aspects of that experience. Does the path look firm? Is the scaffolding pipe clean and rust-free and does it seem to be firmly embedded in the concrete of the path? What are the wind conditions like, are they blustery and changeable or calm and predictable?
As I consider these different aspects I begin to feel the anxiety diminishing but you know it never leaves me completely and I do not want it to. That anxiety is my friend and it is looking after me. It's on alert, mindful of potential dangers and I respect it and I am listening to it. It leaves me to enjoy that moving experience but it stands next to me like an obedient guard dog ready to alert me if needs be.
I know that if I didn't listen to it that it would still be there and it would find other ways to command my attention, to keep me safe, perhaps by giving me a panic attack grabbing me by the cuff with it's teeth and dragging me away to safety regardless of what I thought I wanted.
High anxiety states are not comfortable experiences, far from it, so I am not suggesting that we should welcome all anxiety with open arms. What I do believe is that we should listen to it because it is there for a purpose. Those of our ancestors who didn't experience anxiety or didn't listen to it aren't here anymore - they've all been eaten or fallen off the edge of cliffs.
Anxiety is like the warning light in a car, those lights are directing our attention to matters that might be of concern to us, that we might wish to pay attention to. They're not saying that there is a problem, just that there might be potential for one.
You'll know that when a warning light comes on in your car it's quite possible that the problem is with your warning light and not with your car and you may need to reset the warning systems. In the same way anxiety can sometimes become a habitual response, it can get out of kilter and then it may need a reset too, but just maybe it's trying to tell you something that you need to know.