Saturday, April 22, 2006

Meditation and anxiety

Here's an article by a therapist named Tom Moon that talks about the benefits of meditation as part of a treatment program for anxiety disorders. Moon has a very insightful take on the deeper issues behind the anxiety response:
The spiritual issue in anxiety is that we’re all fragile and mortal, and can’t ever make ourselves completely safe from danger. No matter how well we take care of ourselves, we’re all going to get sick, we’re going to get old (if we’re lucky), and we’re all going to die. We’ll all experience the loss of people we love, as well as our share of disappointment and pain. That is just how life is. As human beings, we’re all aware of this fact, and the consequence is that all of us experience some degree of anxiety.

Meditation helps prevent this angst from getting out of hand by focusing awareness on the present moment. Anxiety is an anticipatory response – it’s always about the future. When we train our minds to focus on the present, we make a remarkable discovery—that the present moment, however unpleasant it might be, is always essentially safe.

Meditation also decreases anxiety by revealing the depth dimension in our being. When the mind becomes quiet, we begin to sense a reservoir of unconditional love in the center of our hearts. This love isn’t something we have to cultivate. It’s our birthright, our true nature. Until we find it, we’re always somewhat restless and fearful. Once we do find it, we know it as the one thing that can satisfy the longing we’ve sought to fill in sex, in relationships, in work – in all our strivings. This love is the antidote to despair and meaninglessness, separation and loss. This love is what lifts us out of fear and allows us to live our lives with courage and peace. With regular practice, you can learn to center your life in that quiet love. Keep at it!

It is very difficult to meditate if you're in the middle of a really severe anxiety attack and sitting may be next to impossible. But I still want to recommend walking meditation at such a time. Force yourself to do slow, mindful walking even when anxiety is intense. Stay in the moment and don't judge the anxiety. Remind yourself of impermanence: the episode will run its course. Then when you calm down go back to ordinary sitting meditation.

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