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Mindful : April 2016
as well as other mindfulness and contemplative techniques, can be invaluable ways to lay out a welcome mat in situations of fear and anxiety. An approach I’ve found helpful is called Touch and Let Go. When a feeling such as fear presents itself during meditation, the touch part is that you acknowledge or welcome the fear. You don’t push it away. You really take a look. You don’t have to dwell on it or build it up. If it’s a strong feeling or emotion, it’ll do that for itself! Having welcomed your fear or anxiety, you let it go. This is far from a one-shot solution. The fear may remain after you release it, or it may come up over and over again. Let it be there. Make friends with it. Then, breathing out, let the fear go, out into space. Meditating with your eyes open may also help you feel the contrast between the anxiety and the space around. Rather than centralizing the fear within your- self, see it and let it go. Take it Easy on Yourself Although working with fear in one’s meditation is extremely valuable, it’s equally important to develop ways of working with fear and anxiety in everyday life. Here are some suggestions: Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t blame your- self for your fears or anxiety. They’re human responses to the human condition. Try to suspend harsh self-judgments. Don’t expect to conquer fear in one breath, one hour, or one day. Take time for yourself. Fear thrives when we push too hard. Appreciate yourself in small moments and small acts: take a walk, smell a flower, drink a good cup of coffee, watch an absorbing movie. Do something differently. Alter a routine. By shifting a habitual pattern, you take yourself off autopilot. It may make you a little more anxious, but it also makes you more mindful and aware. And by working with small anxieties, you can learn about the bigger anxiety and fear in your life and how to handle it. The change could be small and almost silly: brush your hair before you brush your teeth, if you usually do the opposite. Wear something you never would, an outlandish scarf or hat. If you’re compulsively early, leave five minutes later for an appoint- ment. Mix it up. Do something that makes you a little uncomfortable. If this backfires, remember point one. Open the door wide to your fear and anxiety. Touch it. Be curious about it. Then let it go. See the contrast between your anxiety and the space around it. You may have a difficult time trusting people at all. There is more work to be done to conquer the trauma associated with your fear. Fear and anxiety are closely interconnected. Anxiety is a very common if not universal experience. Many things make us anxious, but we wouldn’t necessarily say we’re afraid of all of them. You may feel anxious before a job interview; you might not be afraid of going to the interview. We can think of the difference between fear and anxiety as a matter of degree, or as a way to distinguish between a threat and a challenge. Taking an exam may be challenging, but not necessarily threatening. Whack-a -Mole or Welcome Mat Anxiety may be anticipatory worrying, but it can also be generalized unease. Most people expe- rience anxiety, which can be low level, ongoing, episodic, or sometimes crippling—in which case medical and/or psychological help is called for. With ordinary anxiety, we usually look for the cause of the anxiousness and try to correct it, but again, it’s not so simple. It can become like a game of Whack-a -Mole. You subjugate one cause of anxiety and up pops the next thing. It can feel endless. A common strategy is to treat the symptom, the anxiety itself, by self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, or finding other solutions, from sex to shopping. There’s nothing wrong with a new dress or a new fling, necessarily, but as habitual responses to anxiety, they can become crippling addictions themselves. And do they work? If they did, we wouldn’t have to keep drinking or shopping so frantically. The alternative is to work with the anxiety as it presents itself, without necessarily seeking a cause or expecting an immediate solution. Wel- come it, even, as part of an Open Door policy. “There you are again! Hello, come on in.” Inter- estingly, vulnerability and gentleness toward ourselves and our feelings can reduce fear and anxiety. The practice of mindfulness meditation, 62 mindful April 2016 emotions