I was speaking to a young man who was dealing with severe anxiety. None of the ‘cures for anxiety’ he had been offered had worked for him. I asked him to stop trying to fix his anxiety, just for a moment. I invited him to stop imagining a future filled with anxiety or even free from anxiety, and to meet what was actually here, right now. I invited him to drop the label ‘anxiety’, to let go of that word, to come out of his story of past and future and look at his present experience with fresh eyes. What thoughts and sensations were appearing presently?
Lots of thoughts buzzing around, he said. Lots of mental activity. What did he feel in his body? I invited him to contact the body directly. Intense fluttery sensations in the stomach and chest. I asked him if, just for a moment, he could allow all that activity – thoughts and sensations – to be there, something he had never tried before, because he had been too busy fighting his ‘anxiety’; a fight which, of course, had increased his anxiety. Instead of fighting the sensations in the stomach, could he drop all labels, all judgements, all descriptions, and recognize himself as the vast open space in which these sensations were allowed to come and go? Could he be friendly to these sensations, just for a moment?
He started to feel some space around what he had previously been calling ‘anxiety’. He was aware of the anxiety, he was conscious of it, so it couldn’t truly define who we was. He was no longer trapped in the feelings. He was bigger than anxiety. He could hold it, surround it, embrace it. And the thoughts too, he was bigger than those. He was not trapped inside them – he was the space for them.
He had been able to turn towards his anxiety, and had used it as a guru, to help him remember his true vastness. He had discover that, in truth, there was no ‘anxious person’, simply thoughts and sensations, arising in presence, that had been labelled as ‘anxiety’ and then rejected. He was not a victim of anxiety – he was its loving parent, able to hold it as it was born and died. His anxiety didn’t need to be ‘cured’ – it needed to be met.
Vastness in the midst of anxiety- the last place you’d ever think to look!
– Jeff Foster