With Forethought of Grief: Coping With Anxiety Through Nature and Poetry

Tall evergreen trees in the foreground. Mountains visible in the distance through a clearing. Blue sky.
Photo from my recent visit to the Pacific Northwest

Here’s how good I am at hosting anxiety. I will let a worry trigger a stress reaction — dry mouth, tight throat, racing heart. And in the middle of this, I’ll take it up a notch by fretting about whether I’m using my life’s allotment of heartbeats through these panic attacks. How many days did that episode just subtract from my lifespan? Unsurprisingly, this line of thought does nothing to allay my symptoms.

Two things that do help me cope, though, are nature and poetry. A hike in the woods is the best medicine ever, but not something always available to me. However, even paying attention to a wildflower valiantly blossoming through a crack in the sidewalk can help still my mind, reset my internal rhythm.

Poetry has been a constant touchstone throughout my life, a supportive companion for any feeling, mood or circumstance. “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry is one I turn to often. The words in it that really anchor me are “…wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief…”

Maybe this poem will help you, too, in some way.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free

-Wendell Berry

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