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.