Thursday, July 08, 2010

Dylan St. Thomas - I Suffer and You Shall Too

Anxiety

This a great article at the Buddhist Geeks site - by Dylan St. Thomas, "I Suffer and You Shall Too." As someone who has struggled with anxiety my whole life, his article resonates with me.

For many years, I tried to stuff my anxiety, self-medicate it away (drugs, alcohol), meditate it away, get rid of it in therapy, more meditation - and still it is there, anxiety mind, anxiety body.

It's the body part - the feeling, the physical sensations of shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat, sweaty hands, butterflies in the stomach - more than the cognitive emotion (the brain's version of what the feelings mean) that holds the key for me.

I breathe into the anxiety, inhabit it, feel it, and know (after many years now) that I am NOT dying, I am not going to suffocate. I remain anxious, quite often, but it no longer stifles my life.

I Suffer and You Shall Too

I Suffer and You Shall Too

07. Jul, 2010 by Dylan St. Thomas

In a perfect world, I would be writing this as a completely recovered person. In a perfect world, I would not fall into the thirteen percent of the adult American population suffering from anxiety. Yet, part of working with anxiety is learning that this is not a perfect world.

There is serenity that most people associate with spiritual practice. ‘He meditates, so he must be pretty calm and collected.’ I take that comment a step further and say that many people who take up spiritual practice approach them as the key to serenity. ‘I will meditate, resulting in my calm and collectedness.’ In reality, spiritual practices are often meant to work us up – to reroute the typical pattern of the mind which, in my opinion, is often the equivalent of ‘serenely tuning out’.

I knew the ropes fairly well. I had participated in retreats and upheld a daily practice and I knew that spiritual practice could calm a person in one way and churns up emotions in another. Thus, when I began to experience anxiety, my mind began to fear spiritual practice. My mind had become an anxiety mind, and it demanded my attention at every turn. Why would I want to sit on a cushion and practice Tonglen with anxiety mind? Anxiety mind ruminates and has a knack of filtering normal experience through a pessimistic lens. Sitting with anxiety mind, surely, would not bring about serenity. Surely, it would lead me closer to panic than peace.

Then, one day, I found myself thinking that if I (with all my bounty and blessings) was experiencing such intense anxiety that surely the anxiety of other beings with great suffering must be much more prolific. So, that became my practice. I would allow myself to tune into the feeling of anxiety in a full way, and then I would think of other beings and the myriad forms of sufferings they sustained. Then, I would think of their suffering. Nothing based on fact, just my assumptions of what it must be like to suffer from things like war, poverty, and disease. Through this practice, I came to think of my own anxiety as very misplaced. Surely, the suffering of others was more valid.

All of this went on fine and well until a Dharma friend called on the phone and let me explain the practice to him. ‘Isn’t that kind of denying yourself of your own experience?’ he asked. ‘And isn’t it kind of unfair to assume that just because someone is poverty stricken that they must also be miserable. What about happy poor people?’ Oh yeah! What about happy poor people? What about people with cancer who found joy in every day? What about my own suffering and my own happiness? And why was it made any more or less valid by the experiences of others?

My anxiety mind had turned the world into a hell pit. I had taken the knowledge that ‘all beings suffer’ and had turned myself into the poster child for some strange ‘Life is Strife!’ campaign. Thus, instead of working my way out of anxiety, I backed myself into it. I nestled into it through assuming that it was everywhere. Even my Tonglen practice became riddled with thoughts like ‘I inhale all the anxiety of everyone I met today and I breathe out non anxious energy and happiness!’ Again, the anxiety mind likes to ruminate, so the more it is thinking about anxiety the more anxiously appeased it becomes.

There truly is a moral to this story.

Go find out where Dylan is heading with this post.

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