Daily Meditation Tip: Letting Go of Self and Anxiety

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!

 

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Making Friends with Your Stress

A recent TED talk by Kelly McGonigal about stress reminded me of a short article I wrote about fear with a complimentary viewpoint — its not the stress or fear that is the real problem, but our relation to it. When we view it as the enemy, something to get rid of, we set the stage to increase our tension and anxiety until it actually is a problem. But there are ways we can create a healthier relationship to our fear and stress.

As Fearful as You Need to Be: Joy in the Midst of Fear

There’s a popular saying about how to eliminate fear, I’m sure you’ve heard it: “Choose love, not fear.” This is reassuring; it makes people feel that they always have a choice not to be afraid if they can love instead. It is the principle of replacing what’s considered a negative, fear, with a perceived positive, love. But it doesn’t always work, if it works at all. Sometimes we just feel afraid and there’s nothing we can do to eliminate the fear. We can try, perhaps we can do it for a while, but often the fear just pops back up in another way, just like grief or anger. Maneuvering to get rid of it can have unwanted repercussions and often intensifies the anxiety.

So what do you do when your maneuvering fails? Be as fearful as you need to be. Open to it, feel it, don’t try to get rid of it. Stop viewing it as a problem and approach it as a friend. But also be aware of the thoughts and projections that are feeding the fear. You don’t have to nourish those thoughts. What would happen if you just let your fear live inside your body for a while, just as it is? What if you quit viewing fear as the enemy, something to get rid of? Would it overrun you and eat you up? Not if you cultivate a steady mind and an open heart in the presence of the fear. Take a few deep breaths and step in. Through this practice you can reach a still and open dwelling place. You can freedom in the midst of fear, and maybe even joy.

Here’s a link to Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk: The Truth About Stress