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When you’re afraid of meditating

Birds nest in old mans handsFor various reasons, we can sometimes experience a fear of meditating. We may know that meditating would help us, but we find the thought of getting on the cushion terrifying. Perhaps we bury ourselves in distractions in order to keep the fear at bay.

If this is something you experience, how can you deal with it? I’d suggest that rather than “be tough” and forcing yourself to meditate, it would be more useful to be accepting and compassionate toward your anxiety. Your anxiety isn’t intending to be your enemy — it thinks it’s protecting you from some kind of danger. It’s misguided rather than “bad.” So what you need is reassurance.

I encourage people to notice where the anxiety is most strongly centered in the body (often it’s the solar plexus, where there are lots of nerves that get activated when fear is aroused).

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Then, as best you can, let the anxiety be there. The part of your brain that’s generating the anxiety is already expecting an attack, so do you really want to confirm its fears by being the one who does the attacking? So let go of any thoughts about how anxiety is bad, or how it shouldn’t be there, or how you shouldn’t be anxious, or how there’s something wrong with you for being anxious. If those thoughts arise, don’t encourage them. Just note their arising and relax back into your experience of the body. Your anxiety is just a sensation in the body. It’s not (if you’re anxious about meditating) a sign that there’s something wrong, or that there’s something wrong with you. It’s OK to feel anxious. You can reassure yourself about this by saying, “It’s OK to feel this. Let me feel this.”

What the anxious part of you needs is kindness and reassurance. So try putting your hand on your solar plexus and saying to your anxiety, “I love you, and I want you to find peace. May you be happy.” You can make reassuring movements with your hand as you do this. If the anxiety is specifically about meditating, then you can add things like, “It’s OK. We can do this. I know you’re afraid, but we can handle this.” Become your own healer.

At this point you’re already meditating, so you can just sit where you are and continue. Perhaps after some time you can gently move to your meditation place.

As Rilke wrote, “Be of good courage. All is before you, and time passed in the difficult is never lost.”

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About Bodhipaksa

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Bodhipaksa is a Buddhist practitioner and teacher, a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, and a published author. He founded Wildmind in 2001. Bodhipaksa has published many guided meditation CDs and guided meditation MP3s.

He teaches at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire. You can follow Bodhipaksa on Twitter, join him on Facebook, or hang out with him on .

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Comments

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Comment from Catherine
Time: December 18, 2013, 6:07 pm

Thank you for this. I have no problem regularly going on retreat, listening to dharma talks, meditating at the local centre, etc but I do anything rather than sit down on my own. Yet when I do it I know how helpful it is. I really am going to try what you suggest.

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Comment from Janet
Time: January 14, 2014, 1:24 am

Bodhipaksa, this doesn’t really relate to anxiety that arises while I’m meditating but is more generalized and makes it difficult to cope with certain situations, ie., work, and is then met with assertions from a loved one that I *should* be able to cope and if I would only do a, b, and c, I *would* be able to cope. Any suggestions? As I am sure you can guess, those assertions send my reptilian brain right over the edge :)

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 14, 2014, 7:13 pm

Hi, Janet.

I’m not entirely clear whether you’re asking for advice about the anxiety at work, or the suggestions from your well-meaning loved one :(

With the anxiety at work, it could depend on what’s causing the anxiety. My ways of dealing with being overwhelmed with tasks would be quite different from my ways of dealing with inter-personal problems, or from my ways of dealing with problems with the tax office. Generally, though, the techniques I outlined in this article would be useful for any anxiety. In fact they’re useful for any suffering — something I’ll come back to in a moment.

With regard to your loved one, the advice is meant well, even if it’s lacking in empathy. It would be helpful, when being on the receiving end of such advice, to remember that the other person is well-meaning. They do have your best interests at heart, even if the execution is flawed. So there’s scope for having metta for the other person because they’re trying to help, compassion for them because they’re lacking the ability to actually be helpful, and also to have compassion for yourself because it’s hard not to get what you need. You can do that by adapting what I wrote above: noticing where in the body your suffering is located, allowing it to be there, and by wishing it well, for example by saying “May you be well; may you be happy.” And what you need is, after all, empathy, so giving yourself empathy will take the edge off for you so that you’re less likely to have your reptilian brain pushed over the edge.

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Comment from Janet
Time: January 17, 2014, 4:56 pm

Thanks so much for this, Bodhipaksa! I’m going to try that – compassion for both of us in that moment of suffering, because you’re right, my loved one is *trying* to help and I’m sure my coworkers are doing the best they can under their circumstances as well.

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