Someone wrote to me recently about realizing that she has an underlying feeling of anxiety around the solar plexus that’s there much of the time.
I have that too. It’s not always there, but it is a lot of the time. It doesn’t ruin my life. It doesn’t stop me from being happy. But it’s there. It’s not something that I can “fix” or make go away. And in fact it isn’t helpful even to try. This anxiety is something to be lived with, not banished. And the best way to live with it, I’ve found, is to love it.
Before you can love it, though, necessary to become aware of it. It can be uncomfortable to do this. But it’s an essential step. You can’t respond skillfully to such things unless you’re aware of them.
I think a lot of us have this kind of anxiety and don’t even realize it. Whether we know it’s there or not it affects us. We act out of it but not realizing that it’s there in the background, like a puppet-master controlling our actions, making us turn on the TV to avoid the anxiety of being alone, or pour a glass of wine to dull our worries about work, or making us snap at our partner because we’re worried they might not care about us.
The good news is that we can be at peace while the anxiety is present. The presence of chronic, low-grade anxiety need not affect our wellbeing. As we practice being mindful of those sensations we can learn to regard the anxiety as being not a threat, but just a sensation.
This takes practice, but it’s doable. Start with very minor anxiety, drop the thinking that accompanies it, drop the thinking about how unpleasant your anxiety is, and just notice it. What is this sensation like? What is its texture? Where is it located? How does it change, moment by moment? As we take this approach, anxiety becomes less loaded. It’s just a sensation like any other.
Then we can love it. Loving anxiety does not come naturally to us. It’s definitely something we have to learn to do because it’s not our natural response. The whole point of anxiety is to make us wary of something the mind has flagged up being a potential threat, and even to turn away from that apparent threat. Anxiety is meant to be unpleasant, so we become wary of anxiety itself, and see it as being a threat to our wellbeing. So we want to avoid it. Why wouldn’t we?
We can regard our anxiety not as an enemy and not as something to be gotten rid of, but as a signal being sent by some part of us that is suffering. Some animal-like or child-like part of us is scared and calling out to us. Can we offer it reassurance? Can we love it like we would a pet or a young child?
So we can relate to anxiety in a kind and parental way: “Hey, you! How are you doing today? I’m sorry you’re suffering. I just want you to know that I love you and care about you.” We can place a tender hand on the place where it manifests most strongly in the body. We can look at it with love. In these ways we can offer reassurance to the part of us that’s afraid.
Perhaps eventually this low-grade anxiety will go away. I certainly hope that the part of me that’s afraid learns to feel secure, confident, and unafraid. Until then I’ll offer it as much love as I can.
But what if we can’t feel “I’m sorry you’re suffering. I just want you to know that I love you and care about you.” If it just feels false?
Ask yourself, deep down, do you really want your life to be endless suffering, or would you rather be at peace? Which of those, when you really think about it, is the most appealing?
How do you just drop the thoughts that accompony anxiety? I find that extremely difficult.. the thoughts that are sometimes in my head totally freaks me out.. I try being present and I do meditate, bit sometimes it is quite overwhelming. hope you can help.
Well, you realize that you’re thinking and you realize that you have the ability to let go of that thought and turn your attention to the body. You realize you’re telling a story and you put the story on pause.
It’s just like you might notice you’re walking too fast, and let yourself walk a bit slower, or come to a stop.
You’re not banishing thinking, because the thoughts will come back again. But you can drop it temporarily. All I’m suggesting is that for a few moments you take some of your mental focus away from storytelling and onto the physical sensations that are arising in the body.
I can understand being freaked out by your thoughts. It gets easier if you take those thoughts a bit less seriously. You can realize that there is an inner storyteller that generates these thoughts and dramas. It does not create truth. It creates stories. You always have a choice whether to believe it or not.
Thank you for the response; it makes complete sense.. I will definitely practice this. I agree on “it gets easier if you take those thoughts a bit less seriously.” Any suggestions on how to practice that? :) I realize that I do identify too strongly with the thoughts. Namaste:)
That takes practice too. Just start questioning your thoughts: is this thought true; is this thought helpful; does this thought express kindness? As soon as you question your thoughts, you’re no longer automatically believing them. Initially you can do this after a thought has appeared, and later as it appears, and then even before it appears.
Thank you so much for you suggestions. Appreciate the feedback.
I really loved Bodhipaksa’s reply to you, Pixell. I am very prone to anxiety myself and practising gently letting go of thoughts is a great practice in itself. It also helps me to know (and experience!) that we are not genetically wired to be present at the same time in the mind and body! How great is that? We can’t actually be paying attention to the body sensations AND be lost in thoughts at the same time. And vice-versa. Genius human being craft, isn’t it? I wish you well.
I so value Bodhipaksa’s suggestions Patty. I need practical suggestions so it is really helpful. I agree with you Patty, it is indeed genuis human craft.. so refreshing to explore and experience new perspectives.. All the best to you as well. LovingKindess:)
Thank you–this is exactly what I needed to hear today!
Self compassion is always the path to try to embrace. It feels kinder and less judgemental.
Beautifully written, Bodhipaksa. Warm thank you for the clear gentle simplicity you put in explaining such a profound practice. I’ve shared the post already.
Hi this is a really helpful article, it’s funny because in the last few days, I was feeling just that – that I need to love the part of me which is scared, instead of trying to pretend it’s not there, which I did to put on a brave face but which is actually a bit cruel, I now realise.
Thank you for this suggestion…I tried it and it did help….now trying it in the morning when I am too anxious to get out of bed for hours..I so hope it works and I can get up and get going..I am so tired of being overwhelmed with anxiety…suffering from depression and major grief on top of it..Ugh!!
I’m glad it helped, Shannon. One important thing is not to get into assuming that we can or should try to get rid of painful feelings. It’s OK for them to be there. Just keep recognizing that they represent a part of you that is suffering, and recognize also that there is a part of you that can offer them support, encouragement, and kindness.
This article is a big help. Thank you, Bodhipaksa! When anxiety, fears, indecisiveness, or depression come up, I tend to hate them and myself for feeling them. That just makes it all worse!
Regarding not believing the thoughts generated by our mind, a helpful friend of mine suggested to me “treat your mind as if it’s a child having a nightmare about a monster under the bed. You would be kind and soothing. You wouldn’t be abrupt and tell the child it was silly. You would explain that it isn’t real. It was just a bad dream and that the child was safe. Treat yourself and your mind with the same kindness and love”. I found this helpful as I am a harsh self-critic often using unkind words to myself that I would never say to others. Hopefully this might help someone else. Shanti x