11 Ways of Dealing with Anxiety:
3. Meeting with Stillness

Anxiety, holding Magnifying Glass. Studio Shot

This is the third instalment of 11 Ways of Dealing with Anxiety, an ongoing experiment in being human.

Meeting with stillness

Martin Laird: Into the Silent LandIn Into the Silent Land, Martin Laird suggests that “the skill we must learn” is to “meet” “thoughts and feelings with stillness instead of commentary” (pp 63 & 79). As I have been suggesting, anxiety is a state full of thoughts and feeling, and we very naturally want to sort this out and to ameliorate the discomfort, a discomfort that can be considerable and disabling. But this is to use the same mind to deal with the suffering as the one that caused it.

Trying to work out a solution contributes to anxiety. Instead, you can breathe, come back to this body, take up residence in the present, be still and simply let the anxiety be. Here there is still the suffering of the anxiety but you are freed from the suffering of fighting or fleeing the anxiety. You are not giving in or submitting to the discomfort, but neither are you engaging with it to sort it out (fighting), nor are you indulging it by joining in with whatever scenario is causing you to be anxious, nor are you suppressing it to try to feel better (fleeing).

Anxiety is the response of the reptilian brain to threat: fight, flight, submit or freeze. These strategies are hardwired into us and we naturally and understandably act to survive. But they do not work well in day-to-day living in human society where the threats are not matters of life or death. There are alternatives.

To “meet” suggests relationship, friendship, attention, atunement. So, you have a choice: you could try to control or run away from your anxiety; or you could choose, in a fearless and friendly fashion, to meet it (aka yourself) with stillness.

Next in the series: 4. Prayer.

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