Do you suffer from anxiety or stress? Does your mind sometimes spiral into a negative nose dive so you feel you can’t break free?
If you do, you’re certainly not alone. Anxiety and chronic negative thoughts are two big issues that plague people in our time.
And as many people are discovering, meditation can be an effective way to combat and ultimately conquer that anxiety.
How? Through helping you change your relationship to the negative thought patterns that trigger stress and anxiety. In fact, I want to share two very important lessons I learned from meditation that helped me overcome a case of chronic anxiety.
Anxiety and Negative Thoughts
Many people don’t know this, but often anxiety gets triggered as much from inner stimuli as from outer events.
Negative thoughts can become patterns for each of us. And those patterns can trigger all sorts of responses, chief among them are anxiety and stress.
Let me tell you, I used to have anxiety big time. Right after I graduated from university. Certain things would just trigger a stress response in me and I would shut down. I wouldn’t know what to say and I was filled with anxiety for fear of saying the wrong thing.
I don’t know when or why that happened, but it did. And then I found myself in the grips of a very alien feeling. In fact, I started to feel like an alien, both to myself and others. No one likes the experience of anxiety or stress. We don’t like that anxious version of ourselves at all. It doesn’t feel like you as you know yourself to be. It doesn’t feel natural.
And that’s a big problem with anxiety. You can end up drawing conclusions about yourself because of that experience. It’s like a negative feedback cycle because once you have a negative thought that triggers anxiety, you start to feel badly about yourself. And then you find yourself in some hellish negative feedback cycle and you don’t know how the hell to get out.
That’s where meditation can really help. In fact, meditation was the primary way that I overcame that negative feedback cycle in myself.
And let me say from the start, meditation may not be the answer for everyone. But it worked for me. And there is more and more research confirming that meditation is an effective way to deal with stress and anxiety.
So how does meditation help?
Discovering the Part of You That’s Already Free From Anxiety
Like I said, I suffered for a while from anxiety. I lacked confidence and didn’t really trust what was going to fly out of my mouth at any given moment.
And there were two key lessons I learned from meditation that helped me to move beyond that anxiety.
The first was that meditation introduced me to a part of myself that was never affected by anxiety. At the time, I was meditating pretty much like my life depended on it. I really hated that feeling of not liking myself. And I was determined to find a different relationship to myself that wasn’t infused with this stress and anxiety.
So I put all my eggs in one basket and meditated with fervor. In the practice of meditation I learned how to let everything be. I learned how to accept my experience as it was, and not how I wanted it to be.
Through practicing every day, I eventually became better at it. The experience of letting everything be as it is allowed me to relax. Because that anxiety had me coiled tighter than a cable wire on a Swiss Gondola. I had a constant pit in my stomach.
But meditation provided me with a focused period of time when I wasn’t judging myself or reacting to all the negative thoughts that were arising. In essence, I stopped participating in the draining array of thoughts and feelings that kept boxing me into the corner and bringing me to my knees. And the more I let go, the more I sank into a deeper part of myself.
So what was this part of myself that was untouched by anxiety? It was awareness, simple and free. The meditation practice taught me how to train my attention on the unlimited part of myself, which I understand as pure awareness. That’s what we encounter when we let everything be as it is.
The more I did that, the more I discovered and experienced this new part of myself. In pure awareness, anxiety not only ceased to be a problem, it just ceased to exist. There is such inexpressible peace and ease in this place, that it instantly eradicates the feeling that anything could be wrong.
That’s the magic of meditation right there. If we are to trust what the meditation masters have told us over the centuries, you discover that the deepest part of you is pure awareness. And that awareness is free, open, and unlimited all the time. And it’s untouched by time and space.
And I learned that through meditation, I could spend time in this part of myself and it slowly but surely infused the rest of my life with a steady conviction that life is good beyond measure.
So that experience was an important part of conquering my anxiety.
Realizing That You Have A Choice
The second lesson I learned from meditation might have been even more important than the experiences of pure awareness. Here it is. You always have a choice.
Let me explain.
In meditation, you practice letting everything go. The more you do that, all thoughts and feelings become objects. They lose their distinction. Whereas some thoughts are more potent than others, like the ones that triggered all that stress and anxiety, in meditation you treat them all the same. You let them go and let them be.
All of them.
Of course, it’s harder to let go of some thoughts more than others. That’s because we have more deeply ingrained responses to some thoughts and feelings. But meditation is like a grand equalizer. You apply the same basic approach to everything. You accept it as it is and you don’t try to change it. In fact, you do nothing at all.
So for me, I eventually had the experience of seeing this anxiety—and the thoughts and feelings that triggered it—become like every other thought or feeling. And in that process, it lost it’s teeth as I learned how to let it go.
And more importantly, I learned that I had the choice to let it go. And through exercising that choice over and over again, I proved to myself that I was bigger than that thought pattern and the anxiety it triggered.
When that happened, something shifted in me. I let go on some deeper level and slowly but surely the anxiety diminished. It no longer had me in it’s grips. In truth, I learned that it was me holding on to it. I learned that it was my choice all along. And that’s how I conquered it.
Forging A New Relationship to Your Experience
Of course, anyone can practice meditation. And it’s my experience that this lesson applies to more than just negative thoughts and the anxiety or stress they trigger. In truth, you can learn how to forge a new relationship to all of your experience.
So how did meditation help me overcome anxiety? It showed me that there is a part of me that is always and forever free from all experience. And I learned that I always have a choice. In fact, I learned that my ability to choose went deeper than I could have imagined. And that’s a lesson that’s still unfolding in me every single day.
Can meditation help you in this way? Yes, I’m sure it can. I have no doubt about it.
(Note: If you’re new to meditation, I recommend you proceed slowly and seek the guidance of a teacher or someone with experience navigating this terrain.)
By Morgan Dix