I have often thought about the vortex. It has been a vivid metaphor for that mood state that exerts a powerful pull and encompasses fatal peril, nameless dread, the unspoken, and unimaginable hopelessness.
The capital V provides the graphic.
Much of my life I have been blessed with a grandiosity and/or ignorance that has meant that skating across the edge of the vortex seemed more of a thrill than a danger. It has been possible for me to look in as I skirt the lip, my own velocity enough to ensure safety. I could even lend my confidence to others and act as a guide on those treacherous slopes.
But that energy wanes. Experience chips away at the assumption of safety. My sense of balance admits a hint of wobble…
So my awareness of vortex management has come to include more conscientious thinking and practice.
We differ in our relationship with the vortex, no doubt depending on our temperaments, experience, and circumstances:
- Some look the other way. This often works. Perhaps, by not seeing the possibility, the risk of vertigo is reduced. Unconscious awareness and a subtle lure my nevertheless remain. Whether one stumbles backwards into an abyss of which one had no knowledge, or one flings oneself backwards into something that has been kept in suppressed consciousness; either way, it comes as a total shock to the conscious mind.
- Others are all too aware and spend much of their time and energy marching or scrambling away from it – for the most part successfully, but sometimes not, and perhaps always only partially so.
- My approach for many years was, as I put it above, to skate across the lip. This brings to mind the “slingshot” used by spacecraft. If I have understood this correctly, the gravitational pull of a celestial body may be exploited to develop acceleration and turn directional into angular momentum. The vortex can actually be used as a means of changing direction. This requires considerable confidence and panache. Surely, there must remain a risk of miscalculation and a plummet into the core.
- Finally (though do, please, add to this list) there is the skill of staying still.
I have been developing this skill. The current pandemic, with its erasing of the horizon and its repeated and protracted limbo states of lockdown can be held largely responsible, but my recent emergence from the institutionalisation of public sector employment must also figure. I suppose that, as I slow down, I can no longer rely on my ability to maintain an escape velocity. So I have learned some new tricks. I have learned not to lean away from the abyss, thereby keeping my centre of gravity over my feet with closer attention to the friction between feet and funnel.
(You can tell when a metaphor is getting desperate, because it starts to thrash around.)
I acknowledge the existence of the vortex and its pull, but I weigh against it my own resources, and most importantly this includes an ability to separate what is happening from what I fear might happen.
At that point I pause and reflect. If I can separate the actual from the feared, surely I can notice that this is not a vortex at all. That was a vivid metaphor, and useful up to a point, but the truth of the matter is that I am not falling; I am afraid.
Not falling; simply afraid. This helps because I have been afraid before, and I have learned that, if I can prevent myself from running away, the fear passes.
I have retained the term, though: vortex management. It seems a suitable label for what is going on at those times, and it reminds me that there is something I can do about it.