Up next in the Everyday Awareness series: a simple way to deal with anxiety.
Anxiety is a common theme in popular meditation rituals.
Unfortunately, many of the techniques floating around out there will actually make things worse!
(Spoiler: Do NOT sit indoors and focus on your breath!!)
When anxiety sets in, it draws your awareness up into a knot…
Your mind contracts and turns inward, and splits into pieces.
And then grinds on all the possible outcomes of whatever it is that you’re dealing with.
The hope is that you can sort it all out, and end up in a better place…
Pull the pieces back together…
But the more that you grind, the more agitated and stuck you feel.
Which makes the anxiety worse…
And sets up a vicious spiral.
Sounds familiar, right?
It’s sticky, and it sucks.
But it’s actually not that hard to unravel.
Even if you aren’t really into meditation.
You just have to untie the individual pieces of the knot…
The first thing you want to do is go outside.
Or at least move over to a window.
Your awareness is tightly linked with your vision.
And you’ll notice that when you get all wrapped up in anxiety, you’ll tend pull your focus in tight…
Either staring at some nearby object—or into the empty space in front of you, as you turn your awareness inward.
But narrowing your attention like that is like sealing a lid on a pot of boiling water…
All it does is increase the pressure.
So go outside and give your eyes some room to move.
Let your gaze wander and expand.
Pay attention to the things that are going on around you.
When anxiety takes over, your mind takes off running on all the things that might happen in the future.
It rarely has anything to do with what’s actually going on in the moment.
So put your thoughts and attention on what’s happening now.
Listen to the sounds… Watch the leaves move in the wind…
Look at the cars driving by…
Don’t think about where they might be going… Don’t think about whether it might rain later…
Stick with what’s actually happening now.
Breathe slow and deep.
Feel your skin.
Notice the connections in the world around you.
The movements that things have in common…
Notice how a single wind can set all the leaves in motion…
If it’s raining, appreciate how the Earth can coax a billion individual drops of water to all fly in the same direction…
If you were standing on the other side of the world, all those raindrops would be rising upwards toward the bottoms of your feet…
Notice how all the colors and shadows of the world contrast and compliment each other…
And then remain there for as long as you need.
Anxiety causes your mind to fragment.
Appreciating beauty and connection—even from a distance—brings it back together.
That’s why you don’t want to sit indoors and focus on your breath…
It narrows your attention and directs your awareness inward.
You might be present in the moment…
But if you’ve tuned out the outside world, then all that you’re left with is the conflict in yourself.
You can sit with it and wait for it to pass…
(It is mostly in your mind.)
But that doesn’t so much relieve the anxiety, as it does make you more resilient—by cranking up the heat and suffering through to the other side.
Surrender into pressure.
If you’re trying to toughen up, then sure… Go for it.
It’s not a bad skill to have…
Otherwise, stick with the exercise above.
You’ll be surprised how well it works!
Up next: staying vulnerable and strong in emotionally risky situations.
While still maintaining healthy boundaries.
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About Zach Herbert
I teach people to do cool things with their consciousness, and break their brains with beautiful ideas.
Professional heretic. Unlikely mystic. Host to rebels, misfits and independent thinkers.
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