Releasing the Habit of Anxiety
In Buddhism there are two wings of practice — seeing clearly and holding our experience with compassion.
These two wings are as interdependent as the wings of a bird, and we need both to fly.
Buddhist practice often describes the wing of clear seeing as mindfulness. A clear awareness of exactly what is happening in our moment to moment experience, without trying to change it, attach to it, or run away from it. Witness consciousness.
Witnessing what’s happening in our bodies, our minds, our emotions. Witnessing all of it with curiosity and compassion.
As Tara Brach writes, “We can't honestly accept an experience unless we see clearly what we are accepting.”
With the second wing, compassion, we relate in a tender and gentle way to what we perceive. We embrace what we feel (especially if it’s painful, challenging, uncomfortable or raw) with unconditional compassion. We witness what arises with tenderness, including any judgment or desire to escape. Compassion honors our experience and allows us to be intimate with each moment as it is.
The two wings of clear seeing and compassion work together, mutually reinforcing each other.
So, how (when we get caught in the grip of anxiety), can we skillfully bring that present attention and kindness to our experience in a way that unhooks us?
Often when we feel anxious we also feel like we shouldn’t be feeling that way, we wish it would go away, and we try to get past it.
What if when anxiety came up we actually said, “Oh, wow, this can be a portal to discovering who I am beyond the anxious self?”
Let’s practice this together with RAIN, by Tara Brach
The acronym RAIN stands for:
First I’ll guide you through the steps, then you can listen to my recorded meditation to practice for yourself.
You begin by picking a situation where anxiety is triggered.
Then you name it. For example, “Anxiety about………..”
When you Recognize it you remember you’re not alone. So many of us are doing the same dance.
And then you Allow it.
Allow doesn’t mean you like it.
Allow is a willingness to just let it be for a moment, for a time, so you can have some time to deepen your presence and attention. Yes, I allow this, for now.
Investigate is primarily the investigation of the felt sense in your body, rather than mental commentary about what’s happening.
What’s going on inside the body? is your primary focus. What am I believing? is in the background. The foreground is what’s that like in my body? Where do I feel it?
It’s very embodied.
Feel fear, shame, basic flawed-ness
Breathe with the investigation. Be with it.
Put your hand on your heart so that investigation becomes more of a compassionate process.
You’re beginning to call forth the Nurturing.
Often underneath the anxiety is a grief about how much anxiety separates you from yourself and your life.
Inquiry. What does this place, the hurting place, most need to be comforted?
What does the anxious part in me need?
Hold the anxious place like a child. Trust yourself and your goodness. You can relax. You’re okay.
Nurturing. Giving those messages to the anxious child.
And Tara encourages people after the formal steps to experience after the rain. Where you can experience that profound shift that occurs from being that anxious self to really being the space, the awareness, the compassion, that holds everything.
That shift in identity is everything.
That’s the shift from being caught inside the waves to remembering you’re the ocean.
Make the U-turn. Rather than fixating on anxious thoughts come into the felt sense. Feel it in your body and ask that incredible question that really unhooks us. What does this place need? And then offer it with as much kindness as you can.
The power of this is that you get unhooked from identifying as an anxious self and you get to inhabit the ocean - ness.
Remember we all get hooked. It’s cultural.
We all have our favorite ways for dulling anxiety. One of the most popular is how much more can I get done? The idea that if you get more done on the list then you’ll soothe your anxiety.
There’s many ways we do this individually and as a culture.
As a culture we numb or we aggress. And this manifests on the individual level too.
Each of us, by letting anxiety be a portal, ends up awakening in a way that can ripple out into our culture. We need people that instead of getting hijacked can be calm.
We have to deepen our commitment to compassion and love in our own lives in order to make lasting change in the world around us. This natural tension in our system (the negativity bias), can be an invitation to wake up.
As individuals and as a society.
I invite you to begin here
If you've enjoyed the past two practices I shared with you. This one and Step Closer, Love, then I invite you to join me in my course Enter the Heart Space.
In this course I'll guide you in connecting to your heart through meditations and teachings like the ones above, journal exercises, midday heart centered pauses, and evening unwind and surrender heart focused relaxation meditations and yoga poses.