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Stepping out of the river: How to Win the battle against Anxiety

Stepping out of the river: How to Win the battle against Anxiety

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Anxiety is a killer.

And it kills in a thousand small cuts.

A thousand ways and over a million days.

Anxiety sneaks up from behind. It rarely announces itself and when it shows up, it demands to be fed.

It shrinks your life and forces you to live small and safe.

Mindfulness meditation is a savior.

It can give you the tools, and techniques and the confidence to conquer anxiety,panic and the foreboding fear that many of us wear underneath a shallow smile.

Years ago, I learned this really simple mindfulness technique for seeing thoughts, as thoughts.

Some thoughts are obviously not you.

You are not a pink balloon. You are not a red bus.

These are objects we can visualize, but understand we aren’t those things.

But other thoughts, we can’t so easily dismiss as “not I”.

  1. Fearful thoughts become I am afraid.
  2. Anxious thoughts become i am anxious.
  3. Less than thoughts become I am not enough.

And this is where the stream of suffering begins — the weapon we use by ourselves, on ourselves, to perpetuate our punishment.

Of course, with some practice you can cut through this illusion.

Anxiety is just energy. An image in awareness, experienced as a sensation in the body.

Understanding that you are no more a red bus, than you are not enough, is a good start.

They are merely both objects, or images in awareness.

The small story of me.

By me.

For me.

Picture yourself sitting in a soft safe space by a river.

Watch your thoughts as they race by. No matter how dark, or how deep, they are not yours. They belong to the water.

Notice you are not in the river.

You are watching it. From above. Or behind.

And that little bit of distance, the small but significant difference between being the watcher, the witness, vs the water itself, is everything.

I heard an inspiring interview with Mingyur Rinpoche a few days ago.

Surprisingly, he spoke a bit about anxiety as well.

Even more surprisingly, he also used the river metaphor to offer a path to peace.

He said:

If you can see the river you are not in the river.

If you can’t see the river, you are in the river.

Very simple.

And if you’ve ever had a panic attack, or suffer from anxiety, this makes painfully perfect sense.

Because you understand what it feels like to be on the wrong side of wet.

That little bit of distance is everything.

Try this:

Think a fearful thought. Something that makes you uncomfortable. Just push that thought out from behind, into the canvas of your consciousness.

Now see that the thought is smaller than the frame around it. Cradle that uncomfortable thought with compassion and care — much like a parent would comfort a child. It can sound a bit hippy dippy and new age nutty, but there is a wide wisdom and canvas of calm that is underneath all experience .

Concepts— all images, all ideas, all fears, frailties and phobias won’t stain or sully this powerful peace.

Of course all of this takes practice.

You have to willing to to explore.

And you have to be willing to get wet to realize the river ain’t really you.

But once you do, and it really sinks in, you wont’ struggle to swim ever again.

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