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Mindful : April 2017
Journey of an Anxious Thought N ot long after I started meditating, I was persuaded to spend a whole day at it. Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly easy. I soon felt trapped in my own body, and since I had decided not to leave—a clear admission of defeat—I sat there wanting to climb out of my skin. My breath shortened. I was sweating in my palms, and all over really. My eyes darted around the room. Occasionally, we got up and walked around, but that didn’t make much difference. Something was going on that was about more than an inability to sit still. During a break, I talked to the meditation instructor assigned to me, asking why I had these extreme feelings. “That’s anxiety,” he said. “ What am I anxious about?” I asked, reaching for a lifeline. “ You tell me,” was the reply. “Great,” I groaned. As I considered what he said, I started to examine more closely what was happening— both when I was meditating and not. Even though I considered myself a pretty laid-back guy, I was aware that restlessness and anxiety were actually everyday companions. It wouldn’t necessarily be noticeable to anyone on the outside, but inside, man, those wheels were turning. There was a constant sense of anticipation, a subtle worry. I began to see that what presented itself to me as a gnarly ball of thoughts during meditation (on the order of “get me out of here,” “I can’t take it anymore!”) was simply revealing the agitation that was always there, whether in the background or very much in the foreground. In the days following this first meditation marathon, I peered even more deeply into this experience. My restlessness, it seems, was borne of the fact that I saw lots of time stretching out before me—my entire life, in fact—and I didn’t know how to fill it. Nor did I know what calamities, disappointments, and heartbreaks it might be filled with. You don’t have to get too far along in life for the frailty of human life to be made crystal clear—people die, friendships and loves end, some great hope you had is dashed. By the time I was 25, I had already experienced my father’s sudden death, the “love of my life” had left me (several times), and the career I’d con- structed in my imagination didn’t pan out. No wonder the future felt like a sketchy proposition. Barry Boyce is Editor- in-Chief of Mindful and Mindful.org. He is also author of The Mindfulness Revolution, an anthology of applied mindfulness instructions from leading teachers and experts. Breath Breath Is my daughter OK? I’m sure she’s OK. She’s tough. But her job is terrible; her boss is a sociopath. I hate... hate that guy. He’s going to ruin her life. ... Just like that boyfriend! 50 mindful April 2017