Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Labyrinth of Worry

I recently re-discovered the game of Labyrinth on my husband's iPad®. I'd forgotten what an adrenaline rush the game provides. And I'd forgotten how good I am at the game.

The game requires nerves of steel, to match the tiny steel ball that maneuvers around the various holes and turns of the wooden board's surface. The purpose of the game is to roll the ball through the maze without letting it fall into any of the traps, while still guiding it towards the finish line.

The game responds to the slightest shifts in your touch. If you overreact, the ball will spin out of control and roll into a hole. If you don't continue to tilt the ball forward, edging it on towards the end point, you won't win the game. Thus it is a delicate balance between moving the ball purposefully forward, while not overreacting and sending it into an abyss. It's a tenuous struggle between gravity, beating heart and nerves, at one moment conspiring to make me panic, the next reminding me to remain calm.

I made a little Zen joke to my husband that you have to "Be the ball." Then I revised that and said, "You have to be the board." But I think it's both. You have to get your mind in a place where you are both ball and board, intuitive of each of their unique forces and reactions. If the board is the force, and the ball is the reaction, you have to carefully manage them both in one skillful act of cooperation.

I think everyday we play a game of Labyrinth in our minds. We have to move forward and navigate the day, while avoiding unpleasant thoughts that can sink us into the abyss. On good days, ball and board flow smoothly together in a perfect harmony of cooperative motion. On a bad day, anxiety can cause us to overreact and send the ball spinning quickly into a hole.

My brother, my sister-in-law, my nieces and my nephew all live in Tokyo. I'm sure they're fine. Their emails and Facebook updates tell us that they're fine. But with every friend's post on Facebook about Japan, and every news feed update on the situation at the nuclear power plant, I find the ball rolling out of control towards a black hole.

I quickly shift it back to calm, of course. I keep moving forward through my day. But every moment it seems there's yet another reminder of near-disaster, and my mind panics and sets the ball rolling out of control again.

And so I do this mental dance to maintain equilibrium, reminding myself that, no matter how much TV, radio and the internet may conspire to make me panic about the safety of my brother and his family, they are just fine. I seek the balance between gravity, beating heart and nerves, and breathe again.