If you have a daily meditation practice, you inevitably experience sessions when you feel restless, anxious, or uncomfortable. This is something I mention often because it’s a near universal experience. Some days you may settle onto the cushion and feel relaxed and spacious. At other times, you might quickly seek reasons to end the session, if you make it to the cushion at all.
When you sit daily, you become intimate with your heart and mind in ways both wondrous and disturbing. How do you skillfully face anxiety and restlessness on the cushion? When you first take a seat, you may see a daunting meditation session stretching out in front of you. How do you stay put when every impulse in your body says to leave? First, be fully aware of it, don’t push it away. You might start by offering gratitude to the anxiety – it is a present moment experience – this is what we have in this life. The flavor may not be your favorite, but it is worth tasting nonetheless. Give it a try. Gratitude practice, even toward our unwanted visitors on the cushion, can help notch down resistance.
Remember to return to your body and the physical sensations associated with the discomfort. This is especially important in working with anxiety. Don’t try to get rid of it. I’ve discovered that as soon as I commit to staying present with anxiety or restlessness, my sense of time and the impulse to escape begin to dissolve. There’s no longer a “me” that is separate from what appeared to be a problem, what I thought of as “anxiety.” Labels have practical uses, but they can easily cause us to react from old scripts that separate us from experiencing what’s arising.
The apparent duality of our self and our experience creates an illusion that there is something separate to be rid of. This dichotomy leads to myriad forms of suffering because it’s a struggle with no end. As long as we identify as a self that is trying to eliminate discomfort and inconvenience, we’ll stay stuck in this conundrum. But when we let go, the sense of self and separation dissolve. What we define as a problem is gone. What’s left? Something delicious. Beyond that, you’ll have to taste it yourself. Keep practicing. It’s well worth it!