Meditation to reduce anxiety

Is Your Mind Preparing for Disaster?

Worst case scenario thinking… is it worth it? The theory is simple; imagine the worst thing that can happen and then try to imagine what you’ll do when it happens. In most people’s cases though, it just leads to an inner state of unrest and anxiety.

The entire insurance industry is based on such an approach. They say, “If your worst case happens, we’ll give you money.”

Why would any business want to take on that much risk? If the worst case happens, they are on the hook to suffer the worst of it, not you. We are willing to pay a premium for this type of assurance.

At the same time, we can assume that insurance companies make huge sums of money. HUGE! They advertise constantly on prime time TV which costs millions of dollars. Do they know something we don’t know?

Yes, in fact they do. They know that worst case scenarios hardly ever occur. In fact the percentage of the time that big catastrophes strike the average person are infinitesimal. And yet, so often I hear those dreaded 3 words… YOU NEVER KNOW.

Can you Control your Mind?

What I do know is that thinking negatively does have an affect on the kind of life you create. I’m not claiming that a strict policy of only positive thoughts will pre-empt all difficulties. However thinking negatively leads to beliefs that are based in negativity and those beliefs will definitely affect your day to day life.

Many have told me they get it. They understand this teaching but they can’t seem to control their minds. As much as they want to think more positively, the realities they see day by day and their experiences contradict a more positive outlook.

This is also true. The world and the challenges we all face trying to get our stuff done and find some enjoyment in life are real. There can be a shift in consciousness that leads to a dramatic transformation in your internal landscape.

Here is a snapshot of the mental landscape that I hear from many beginning meditators;

My mind is non-stop regurgitating scenarios and leaving me somewhat anxious and unsettled. I have a ton of negative thoughts most days and I can’t stop them. When I get angry, I don’t know how to stop my mind from replaying what happened and continually blaming the other person for what they did. Then I start to hate myself for being so judgmental. I get exhausted and then eat or drink too much as a way to find relief.”

Life in the World

This is life in the world for sure. The world is NOT something meditation is going to change immediately. Meditation gives you the opportunity to change how you respond to the world.

The world (a somewhat nebulous term, I understand) has a vested interest in cultivating worst-case thinking. The more fear the world stimulates in you, the more you need their insurance packages. And then the richer these companies get.

What meditation does is put you face to face with your mind. We make a conscious effort to reduce the stimulation to our senses and focus within. With practice, you will come to an inner world and here is where you can clearly see what your mind does.

Initially all that worst case activity can seem daunting. It makes us angry because it’s not natural. To be in a chronic state of worry about horrible things happening is terribly draining.

It may appear as though that type of thinking cannot be stopped however it absolutely can! No surprise… one very reliable solution is MEDITATION.

Meditation in its simplest definition can be thought of as a time of inner contemplation whereby we train the mind to function in ways that bring greater peace. We give all our attention to the activity of our minds and emotions and, through the exertion of will, consciousness and wisdom, we transform.

Transformation Away from Disastrous Thinking

Living without dwelling in worst case thinking will save a huge amount of energy. Better to use meditation as a tool to promptly process difficult emotions.

Learning to process emotions is easy to understand but somewhat challenging to implement. We all know that when we feel lousy, we don’t always feel like doing the right thing.

If we are in an emotional state such as irritated, anxious, or depressed, it is more common to try and do something that makes us feel immediately better. The most common activities may include overeating, getting drink or high, masturbating or gossiping.

Meditation can provide reliable (and free!) methods to examine your feelings when distressed and diffuse the pressure these feelings are creating.

Spiritual Maturity Means Confidence when Difficulty Strikes

When you become skilled at moving through anxiety and fear quickly using meditation, then you won’t fear worst cases nearly as much. Your confidence in yourself will grow. Your fear of the world will reduce.

A spiritually mature person expects a certain amount of adversity as it is unavoidable in the current consciousness of humanity. We all need some basic functioning and coping skills for the challenges we face.

The difference is that when you know your inner world and have developed the ability to keep the mind neutral and positive most of the time, you don’t slip into dark rabbit holes of negativity. And if you do, you recognize it quickly and get out.

When you begin to sense a down mood, you can enter into meditation and process the feelings before they take you down too far. These two skills are paramount to gaining the relaxation that people crave as a direct benefit of learning to meditate.

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meditations for emotional reactions

Discredit Emotions or Process Them… What’s the Difference?

Downtime associated with being emotional can range from minor (and a little irritating like when you get upset while driving and it affects your mood for a few minutes) to debilitating (depression that can last for weeks or more). Meditation is the most effective and most natural way to curtail time spent in lousy moods.

The question was posed to me recently whether the idea is to adopt rational thinking as a way to discredit emotions. Absolutely not! Emotions have incredible value. If we discredit them and quickly seek out a rational solution, there is a risk of suppressing feelings that are important.

In reality, we explore and validate the emotions fully. This is done once we have relaxed and entered into the meditation state.

As a quick reminder, when seeking to meditate, take the necessary time to relax using deep breathing, a body relaxation technique (such as doing a body scan) and then a check in with the thoughts coming up. Be conscious in clearing away aspects of the day that might try to dominate your thoughts and thus your meditation session.

When you can feel your body settling into that pleasant, somewhat heavy feeling and your mind is less active, direct your focus to your feelings. We will walk through an example to show you the difference between discrediting emotions (not recommended) and thoroughly processing them.

Let’s consider someone who is distressed due to receiving bad news about her romantic relationship. A woman has learned that her boyfriend, who has been a little distant lately has suggested taking a break so they can see other people. This issue has come up before for her in a prior relationship and in the end, it led to a painful breakup.

Feelings stirred by difficulties in romance should be processed promptly to avoid deep dismay.

If the woman chose the route of turning to rationalizing her feelings, she might decide that really there is no major threat. Her boyfriend said everything is fine but he wants to make sure he can commit long term so wants to date a few others before doing so.

In this approach, she agrees to his proposal and each time anxiety or fears surface, she turns to her rational explanation and convinces herself that things will be fine.

This is really a terrible approach in most instances for the simple reason that the feelings of anxiety, worry, dread etc have not been honored. Instead of considering that the feelings may contain an important message (ie. ‘something isn’t right here’), she has averted her attention by discrediting the emotions in favor of a rational explanation.

Yes, there is a chance that her relationship will return to the level of closeness she desires but I would say chances are slim. By discrediting the emotion, there is no exploration nor responsibility taken as to why her boyfriend is requesting the break. it is always a wise move to assume you have some responsibility in situations that are emotionally disruptive.

If someone sought me out for counseling with this predicament, my recommendation would be to meditate specifically on their feelings, to honor and validate their fears and notice where their mind tended to go.

Let’s say her meditation yielded the following feedback;

“Once I got settled in, I immediately felt panic. it was intense. I was brought back to when things fell apart with Alan 4 years ago. it was horrible. About 2 years into the relationship, he casually suggested a break in which we could see other people. I told him that was of no interest to me and he kind of agreed that it was the same for him. Yet in order that we know we were really right for each other, he thought it would be a good test.

“He assured me that a month or 2 would probably be all he needed and then we’d be back together and stronger than ever. I agreed but I had a bad feeling about it. I of course didn’t date anyone but he was quickly dating a girl. Three weeks later, he broke up with me with the explanation that he didn’t think we were right for each other. I was devastated.

“The possibility of this happening again is causing me to intense anxiety.”

Despite the apparent disruption, this is a vital part of processing emotions. Step 1 is to relax and let the emotions reveal their full intensity. Take ownership of the feelings. Even though the feelings are quite uncomfortable, owning them fully allows them to begin to subside.

Think of your emotions as having a message. If we receive the message, the emotions can begin to calm down. In our example, the message is “I’m panicking because I’m afraid my boyfriend might leave me just like what happened in my last relationship.”

By acknowledging the full force of the emotion, we can move on to step 2 which is receiving the message. And having received the message, we can then (and only then) shift to our reasoning mind.

Shifting to the reasoning mind is different than rationalizing away the emotion. A reasonable thought process in this kind of situation may sound like, “Ok, so why might my boyfriend want to initiate this kind of break? Is he unhappy? Is he attracted to someone else? Am I doing something that that is causing him to feel trapped or suffocated?”

Having owned the emotion means we can enter into this kind of thinking and not be consumed in the feelings. It does take practice because the more intense feelings will try to dominate the meditation and possibly suggest a very dark narrative.

When I say a dark narrative, I mean the temptation to project the worst possible outcome and thus ramp up the emotions even harder. This results in a super dark emotional state which can be even harder to emerge from.

Using meditation as a way to process the emotion will help you avoid those kinds of rabbit holes. True, the reality may be unpleasant. If some of her hunches are accurate, nothing is to be gained by ignoring the feelings. The best thing she can do is likely communicate her concerns and hope her boyfriend is willing to talk honestly about what he is feeling.

In this way, there is a chance they can mend things before too much damage is done. Of course it is possible that her boyfriend has his sights on someone else and is trying to craftily maneuver himself out of his current relationship in which case, there might not be much that she can do.

Meditation thus is not a fix-all process. It is a way to examine and contemplate the situations in your life in a mature and methodical way. Ignoring negative feelings and developing a convenient way to ‘rationalize them away’ can have disastrous results.

It is recommended that a person develop the habit of processing emotions. Think of food processing. We take raw elements and take them through a process that yields edible food. Processing emotions means taking the raw feelings and reaching mature and reasonable conclusions which fuel smart actions.

Learning to process emotions while in meditation takes practice especially if this is a brand new idea. Remember these steps;

  1. Honor the emotion and sit with it first and foremost.
  2. Validate and own the feelings to their fullest (ie. I’m definitely really angry right now!’
  3. Begin to explore when you started feeling as you do and what is the likely cause.
  4. Having identified the cause, move into a more reasonable mind set (granted, this takes practice as it can be tempting to become even more emotional at this point in the meditation)
  5. Begin to meditate upon mature and reasonable courses of action. Remember that just meditating is not going to resolve difficult situations but consciously examining things can lead to good ideas.
  6. Review your options and see how each of them feel.
  7. Make a decision as to what you will do and once your meditation is finished, act promptly if appropriate.
meditation feels stale

What to do When Meditation Feels Stale

No matter how long you’ve been meditating nor how inspired you might feel, there are days when your meditation practice can feel like a chore. This is totally normal.

It can be tempting to get very analytical. Who wouldn’t want to move through dry periods as quickly as possible? For the spiritual seeker, it is common to reflect upon boredom or drabness in meditation as a sign that something is wrong. The solution is generally simple.

We as souls like new things. Newness is fresh and exciting. New relationships carry extra promise as we haven’t seen very much of the other person yet. So much mystery yet to be revealed. Our minds seem to naturally fill in the missing pieces with hopefulness.

Are you Hopeful?

Let’s examine this as the concept can be very freeing. Hope is a foundational aspect of spiritual growth. Because we don’t know what lies ahead, we either decide to be hopeful and take on an optimistic viewpoint or we get worried and take on anxiety. Have you ever considered that this is a choice?

Wisdom is important too. It isn’t recommended to force hope onto a situation when your wisdom is telling you something is off. Anxiety breeds where fears of the future exist. Sometimes the anxiety is founded because the signs support a possible negative outcome. Sometimes those fears are not grounded in reality. Anxiety is common amidst those who have faced a lot of adversity and have lost hope to some degree.

A first step when your meditation feels stale is to examine how hopeful you are in your life right now. Being hopeful and having faith that the future will improve, even in something as simple as your meditation practice is important.

You may wonder, how can you fabricate hope if it isn’t naturally there? This is a good question! We don’t want to be naive and become delusional about something false. So where does hope come from?

There is an expression… Hope springs eternal. Consider that there is an unlimited amount of hope available to you but what makes it spring is your faith that positive change is coming. One of the best ways to ramp up your faith and connect to those good changes that are coming is to seek new teachings.

Spiritual Growth is Ongoing and Requires Consistent Effort

The spiritual path is truly fascinating. I’ve heard people make very emphatic prayers that are not realistic, Here is an example;

‘God, let all good things come to me now and for all my life!’

The illusion is that one strong prayer covers the person for life.

Another person prayed thus;

‘God, I hereby forgive all those who have ever hurt or wronged me from the beginning of my life through to today and until I pass from this Earth.’

It sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s a bit lazy. It tries to lump everything into one line and excuse the work that is needed for forgiveness to be real. One could say… “Yes, but Jesus said ‘Anything you ask in My Name will be given’.”

Forgiveness actually requires a process if it is going to liberate the soul. Just intellectually deciding to forgive someone is a step along the way but the freedom comes when we probe into ourselves to see what if any emotion from the past is still buried inside. You can read more about a forgiveness process here.

The same principles apply when your meditation practice seems to have stalled a bit. It is your soul needing something. We notice the dry feeling of not much coming through or recognize that we have slipped into a rut. Getting into meditation isn’t too hard but once there, it’s boring or routine.

There is work to be done! Whatever your spiritual path is, be it mystical, Christian, Buddhist, Zen Taoist, Sufi, Jewish or just something that you have pieced together on your own, take it upon yourself to stimulate hope by reading stuff that your teachers have written.

Attend a seminar or watch some videos online. In other words, open humbly to the inflow of new material and see if that excites you to go back inside yourself and bust through. Another really good idea is to seek out feedback. If you have a teacher, share with them what is happening and get some counsel.

There are times when staleness comes and we demonstrate our dedication to the path simply by meditating through it. You can see these times as tests. Are you dedicated to your growth such that even when it feels hard, you still put the time in?

Before Enlightenment Chop Wood and Carry Water. After Enlightenment…

The Buddhist expression captures it well. Enlightenment will come if we keep going. How long will it take? Don’t worry about that as it is out of your control. Keep your life in order and take care of business but meditate daily!

Finally, as a way to reveal what may be causing the staleness, review your physical and emotional life. If there are troubling aspects you are aware of, seek to act where possible. Low level anxiety or depression if not addressed can lead to subtle states of hopelessness. This may spill into your meditation practice.

Always remember that hope brings life. Foster an interior feeling of hopefulness. As weird as it sounds, study hope and what seems to generate it. When are you most hopeful? Do more of that. What triggers the early stages of hopelessness? Wean your life of those things to whatever degree you can.

Seek out fresh teaching. Search online.  Look at getting out of the familiar and attending a talk, or a workshop, a class or even a retreat. Pray for hope to flood through your entire being.

Finally, ask a trusted teacher for help. Humbly submit to the guidance of someone you trust. You will find in short order that a breakthrough is occuring.

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