I am in Maine and while the warm, moist air is releasing the brittle of my bones and loosening the sinew of my muscles, anxiety is taking hold. Where will I park my camper ultimately? How will I have my zoom meetings? What will it take for me to sit my butt in the chair and write, do my work? I command myself to, “Sit. Stay.” Just like I tell my doggos. I close my eyes and breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. The be here right now program does work. I release my made-up narratives, my negative what ifs, which in turn dissolves my fears. I found the excerpt below in Tricycle Magazine and it makes so much sense to me and has a practical magic to it…
Meaningful Monday Writing Prompt ~ Describe your anxiety as if it an object or an animal or a person. How and why does it show up?
Becoming Friendly with Anxiety
Modern life gives us plenty of reason to be anxious: the state of the world is highly uncertain and unpredictable; we have too many things to do and too little time; and we can easily become overwhelmed by the inevitable stresses, conflicts, setbacks, and struggles of everyday life.
Even if the actual threat that’s triggering our anxiety is minor (or imaginary), fearful and worrisome thoughts can easily spiral out of control and convince us that the worst case scenario is lurking around the corner. These thoughts, in turn, activate the nervous system’s fight-or-flight response and trigger a cascade of uncomfortable physical reactions, creating a vicious cycle that further fuels negative thought loops.
From a Buddhist perspective, anxiety is a form of dukkha(suffering) that stems from the mind’s seeking after security and certainty in a world that is by nature impermanent and uncertain. Buddha taught that we always have the power to work with our thoughts and emotions, which by nature are constantly changing. With practice, we can become mindful of anxious thoughts as they are arising—and ultimately begin to replace them with thoughts of peace, calm, compassion, and clarity.
What can we do when we feel the pulse of anxiety beginning to take hold? The first step is to acknowledge its presence and offer it a kind welcome, says Buddhist teacher and DharmaPunx founder Josh Korda.
“The solution is to develop anxiety tolerance—to learn how to observe and hold our felt experience, which involves the ability to greet and observe our most uncomfortable and inconvenient feelings with ‘unconditional friendliness,’” writes Korda. “This kind of mindfulness means we can provide a safe container for our fear and soften it into a manageable state.”
After developing some state of ease via a concentration-based meditation (observing the breath or reciting lovingkindness phrases, for example), bring to mind a situation that causes fear, a desire to flee or to isolate yourself.
• To further activate the emotion, ask yourself, “How does it feel to be vulnerable? How does it feel to be unsafe?” or other resonant questions.
• Notice any uncomfortable sensations that appear, such as tightness in the abdomen.
• Let go of any tendency to resist the sensations or to stay focused on the mental image that activated the feeling. I’ve even practiced thinking, “Hello, welcome” when fear arises, to remove any tendency to avoid my inner experience.
• Breathe into and relax the areas around the fear, but not the core physical sensations themselves—for example, if we feel our anxiety most acutely in the chest or throat, allow those areas to remain activated; focus on relaxing the shoulders, arms, and abdomen. We’re making space for the fear, allowing it to grow, even though it is uncomfortable. Recognize the impulse to turn away from fear and return to the actual sensations.
• Keep your attention on the sensations of anxiety and investigate how they change, as if you were a zoologist observing a different species.
The goal is to observe and nurture our anxiety. Only when emotions are truly attended to can they be endured and transformed into useful energies that express our needs and help guide us through life.
To read more about fear, see the Special Section of Buddhist Teachings on Fear.
Josh Korda has been the guiding teacher of Dharma Punx NYC since 2005. He is an empowered teacher in the Against the Stream lineage and a visiting teacher at the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care.