In the final part of our anxiety blog, we look at how meditation can show us more clearly our habitual patterns of mind and, ultimately, even free us from those very same habits.
As many of us will have experienced sometime in life, anxiety can have an incredibly negative impact on the lives of those it affects directly, as well as those around them. In our previous two blogs we examined how to deal with anxiety using two different approaches – one rational and one investigative, both of which use mindfulness to help to reduce levels of anxiety.
And while using one, or both of these can have significant effect on how much anxiety we feel, by taking that final step, the Vulnerable Approach, we start to see how meditation for anxiety can allow us to achieve even greater results.
The Vulnerable Approach – witnessing the mind at work
In the two previous approaches, we reassessed our view of anxiety and looked into its nature. Now we’re ready to move onto the most rewarding part of the journey.
The Vulnerable Approach requires a more formal meditation technique. For it to be effective, we need to let down our guard and learn to allow anything and everything to arise in the mind. It can be both frightening and exciting in equal measure. But most of all, it’s incredibly liberating.
And of course this what we are training in every time we sit and do a Headspace meditation. We are learning to witness the mind, to witness both thoughts and feelings from a place of neutrality or objectivity. Essentially, we are allowing the mind to rest in the present moment, no longer swayed or overwhelmed by anxious thoughts or feelings.
So, when an anxious thought comes, we see it, we let it go. Another thought comes, perhaps connected, perhaps not, we acknowledge it, and we let it go. Next, a feeling or sensation may arise; we feel it, we welcome it, and again, we let it go. But no matter what the thought or feeling is, however we feel about it, we don’t block it, we allow it to arise, embrace it and then it passes away. It may feel like it comes back again very quickly, but even if it is the same message, it is a new thought and should be treated in just the same way.
And the way that this helps with our anxiety levels is this: once we’ve mastered this technique (simply meaning when we have practiced it often enough and are confident to apply it), we can see that everything is always changing. Sure, sometimes it feels that anxiety is with us all of the time, but in fact, if we witness the mind often enough, we see there are times when it is, and times when it isn’t.
We’ll also see that it’s not just our own mind that behaves like this – in fact all minds do. And we start to see this more clearly. Sure, maybe not everyone experiences anxiety in that way and we are all on a scale. But equally for others, anger, sadness, loneliness or something else might be just as challenging. And so as we see these patterns in our own mind we start to get a sense of how they impact others too. The knock-on affect of this is that we no longer feel isolated and alone. Instead we feel a sense of it being very normal and nothing to fear.
Finally, the vulnerable approach allows the mind to soften a little. We see that thoughts are just thoughts, a feeling is just a feeling – nothing more, nothing less. This takes nothing from the wonder of human life, nor does it add to our confusion. It simply allows the mind to be free, open, and ready to experience life exactly as it is, and to welcome that experience.
A word of caution
This is the most courageous approach of all, requiring us to let down our guard and welcome everything and anything into our experience. It takes both time and patience, but be brave, the rewards are beyond anything we might imagine.