I would like to share my current thoughts on ‘the fear of anxiety’ based on my own study, experience and understanding.
One theory goes that it is not anxiety itself which makes us feel so bad but it is our fear attached to the feelings of anxiety and our strong desire to avoid them at all costs! Sound familiar?
It’s a funny feeling, hard to describe in words, an irrational, sometimes subtle, other times over-whelming, always horrible sense of fear – of what? There are often triggers but some days, it’s just there, “arghhhh not you again”.
We don’t want it and so we block it and resist it which has the effect of ‘fixing’ it within us and it ends up feeling more intense and much worse than the original anxiety.
The systematic, progressive practices of yoga and meditation gradually give us the skills to be fully present with these sensations without judgement, to allow ourselves to sit with and consciously feel the anxiety within the body and to actually give those feelings more space so that they are diluted and can be processed easily and naturally by our bodies. This process of allowing and then letting go are skills we are already capable of but have possibly lost connection with. Sometimes we refer to this in class as ‘losing all unnecessary effort or tension’.
Through the meditation practices of mind calming we can start to recognise that these raised emotional states of, for example: anxiety, excitement or irritation are impermanent and ever changing so we don’t need to attach so much importance to them and get caught up with judging them good or bad and then either resisting, craving or holding onto particular emotional states. Instead we can experience them with a sense of understanding their true nature and with a wider perspective in order to let them pass through us.
We can also cultivate the conditions in which this transformation of our experience can occur. Through repetition we can evoke feelings of acknowledgement, patience and understanding. Some texts point to the possibility that maybe at some point we can even welcome the feelings and show them hospitality like you would a good friend but maybe that’s a bridge too far at the moment. However, this is based on a sound principle that any feelings we experience are an expression of ourselves and a result of our story and that it is probably not helpful to reject ourselves. After all, we wouldn’t reject a dear friend and tell them to stop feeling! It’s more likely we would listen patiently and offer comfort and security until the feelings pass.
On a different note, the thoughts and opinions that we may add to our feelings can be troublesome and we are sometimes tricked into believing our thoughts are real. This we can also investigate through specific meditation practices but perhaps this is a subject for a different blog another time!
If any of what I have written doesn’t make sense, it’s not surprising as at the end of the day they are just words on a page. What I have attempted to share actually only really makes sense in practice as an experience. Well, if you are not sure, there’s only one way to find out!