I was speaking to a young man who was dealing with severe anxiety.
None of the ‘cures for anxiety’ he had been offered had worked for him.
I invited him to stop trying to FIX his anxiety, just for a moment. I invited him to stop imagining a future free from anxiety, or filled with anxiety, and to meet what was actually here, right now, in this present scene. I invited him to drop the label ‘anxiety’, to let go of that word he had learned, to come out of his story of past and future and look at his present experience with fresh eyes and without history. What thoughts and sensations were appearing presently?
Lots of thoughts buzzing around, he said. Lots of mental activity. What did he feel in his body? I invited him to contact the body directly. Intense fluttery sensations in the stomach and chest. I asked him if, just for a moment, he could allow all that activity – thoughts and sensations – to be there, something he had never tried before, because he had been too busy fighting his ‘anxiety’; a fight which, of course, had actually increased his anxiety! He had been making ‘anxiety’ his enemy, rejecting it, trying to delete it, without getting to know it intimately first! Instead of fighting the sensations in the stomach, could he drop all labels, all judgements, all descriptions, and recognise himself as the vast open space in which these sensations were allowed to come and go? Could he be friendly to these sensations, just for a moment? Could kindness be the way?
He started to feel some space around what he had previously been calling ‘anxiety’. He was aware of the anxiety, he was conscious of it, so it couldn’t truly define who we was. He was no longer trapped in the feelings. He was bigger than the feelings. He could hold his anxiety, surround it, embrace it. And the thoughts and judgements too, he was bigger than those. He was not trapped inside them – he was the space for them. They didn’t define him.
He had been able to TURN TOWARDS his anxiety, and had used it as a wake-up call, to help him remember his true vastness. He had discovered that, in truth, there was no ‘anxious person’ – the anxiety could not define or limit the vastness of who he was – there were simply thoughts and sensations that had been labelled as ‘anxiety’ and then rejected. He was not a victim of anxiety – he was now its loving parent, able to hold it as it was born, expressed itself, and died.
His anxiety didn’t need to be ‘cured’ – it needed to be met, touched, held, in the present moment. It didn’t need to be deleted, it needed to be understood. It didn’t want to destroy him, it wanted to wake him up.
It wasn’t a mistake that he had felt anxious.
Healing in the midst of anxiety – the last place you’d ever think to look!
– Jeff Foster
(From his book ‘Falling in Love with Where You Are’)