Imagination Games to Neutralize Anxiety, Anger, and Self-Pity

My brain is not a quiet and docile place. If yours is, that is absolutely wonderful! You probably don’t need to read any further. This blogpost will serve as an invitation to calming down the mind using various imagination-based meditations – each is appropriate for a different kind of chaos or noise that is preventing peace. After finding relief from the first meditation described below (Send it Down the River), I started to create new iterations whenever a person or situation made me anxious, angry, or panicky.

Postpartum hormones have surely increased the frequency of these situations… not to mention the challenges of moving every few weeks and changing housemates (read: parents or in-laws, husband or no husband, West Coast or Midwest), switching jobs from educator to data analyst, and exclusively breastfeeding an infant while also working from home.

I mean, I am loving life. I’m daily blown away by the abundant blessings surrounding me and within me – a handsome husband who helps me with nighttime feedings, two grammys who eagerly watch my daughter while I work, two grampys who make my daughter twinkle and laugh more than anybody else, six aunts and uncles who dote on her, a steady stream of podcasts to grow my brain, sunshine and vegetables and physical therapy to keep me healthy… yeah, I am quite amazed at all the things that are going my way.

But still, to be honest, my brain cracks a little on a daily basis. And these time-outs help me heal the cracks and return to homeostasis, to shalom, to gratitude. Hopefully one or two will speak to you! I am certainly excited to have this list to come back to when I inevitably forget how to calm my brain some angry night in the not so distant future.

1) Worried About the Future

You are laying in bed at night ruminating on what if’s, why me’s, big decisions, or potential consequences. The more you brace for future trouble, the more frenetic your worries get. There are too many prospective problems to solve them all. It’s exhausting, but sleep is for the lucky ones not afraid of tomorrow so… you lay awake, carefully constructing plans that will protect you from every ill will and misfortune.

Stop.

What is your concern? Ok, fine. Take it in your hands, and set it gently in a Moses basket and send it downstream on the river of your dreams. Watch it sail away and feel the weight of its presence leave you as it gets smaller and smaller on the horizon. Now what other concern is pressing you? Fold it up, set it in the next basket and watch it gently float down the river. You are left alone at last with a beautiful river view in front of you and no worries in sight. You are free.

2) Engaged in an Imaginary Argument

Your friend had the audacity to subtly criticize your parenting style in front of your entire book club, but of course she did it in the most passive aggressive way possible. So anything you say to confront her will make it seem like you are blowing the comment way out of proportion – geez lighten up, right? So there you stew, sipping your pinot noir trying to work out a good comeback about how her kid is a spoiled brat and what does she know. Your very best vitriol is spewing out of your brain toward miss high and mighty, and you can’t even focus on the group conversation as it shifts to The Zookeeper’s Wife.

Stop.

Imagine your angry rant is a stream of blood shooting out of a severed artery. Take a hot iron and cauterize the artery, sealing it healed. Look for other blood leaks and cauterize those vessels too. Look at your body and see that it is contained, no longer losing blood. You are fine, you are healthy. You are no longer dying. Wonderful! Now sip that pinot and tune back into your book club. She cannot hurt you.

3) Surrounded by Tense or Angry People

You are on a three-hour car ride with your college roommates. One of them is a Trump supporter, one is a Black Lives Matter advocate, and one is a French exchange student who thinks American politics are lunacy. No one is shy about speaking their minds. Personally, you are sweating bullets and would like to jump out of the car before the intolerance turns into road rage or the nasty accusations turn to a mass eviction from your roommate who owns the condo. Your chest is getting heavy, and you feel like you might cry or hyperventilate because you CANNOT escape the shouting.

Stop.

Think back to all the movies you’ve watched in which there were fairies. Choose your favorite variety of fairy. Then loose hundreds of those little fairies into the atmosphere to wield their tiny wands and zap the sparks flying from angry person to angry person. Watch them dance and soar as the argument (or silently shouldering body language) choreographs their victory dancing. Not one zinger gets past them. The air is no longer toxic to breathe. All calms down, all becomes well as you focus on the fairies and tune out the people. Allow yourself to smile.

4) Wounded by Someone You Love

It’s been months since you’ve been on a date with your husband, and you keep dropping hints every few days that you’d like a night out sans bebe. But nothing gets penciled on the calendar. A smile and a nod is all you get.  Definitely, we should, he says. What the hell? Does he even love you? Is this what the relationship has come to? Probably he doesn’t even want to spend time with you because you are so hormonal and crazy, not fun and friendly like you were when he fell in love with you. It’s probably because there are so many other people he’d rather spend time with. BUT just because you see each other all day doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a date. Right?!

Stop.

You have been dealt either a real or imaginary wound. Often it’s hard to tell which. Regardless, go ahead and imagine your body. Take a chainsaw to the mangled limb, cauterize the bleeding, and then watch as a new healthy limb grows in its place. Now you are whole and healed. You are not injured, not a victim. Interact with your husband or don’t. Put a date on the calendar and help him out, or realize that lunch on the patio yesterday while the baby napped counts as a date even if you didn’t shave your legs and plan all the details. You decide. Maybe do both, eh?

5) Horrified by Someone’s Worldview

Over dinner, your uncle enjoys a lengthy soapbox about his convictions that 1) all Muslim citizens are un-American and should be deported to the Arab world, 2) Hispanics are trying to make Mexican the new national language, and 3) gay marriage is the reason for global warming.

Stop.

Instead of reacting to his comments immediately, send his brain some love. Feel the compassion well up within you and share that sentiment silently. Imagine the poet Emma Lazarus massaging his head, gently whispering into his ear her famous words, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Watch as her wisdom seeps into his hair follicles, his skin, his grey matter. Just for a second, imagine that he is inoculated against ignorance and bigotry. Wasn’t that nice? Now, decide which Proverb to rely on for guidance: “Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are” (26:4) or “Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation” (26:5). But keep Emma in the room either way.

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