During my sit this morning I found myself feeling a bit agitated, my mind busier than usual and harder to settle and my body tense, feeling anxious. Like many people I have wrestled with anxiety for much of my life, at times so intensely that it was difficult to function. It is one of the reasons I committed to meditation. It has been one of the most effective strategies for coping with anxiety and for settling and calming my body and mind. Though today as I sat in my morning meditation, I found myself engaging in a familiar pattern of rumination. Scanning my mind for mistakes or unwise decisions I’ve made, creating elaborate stories about the terrible outcomes that I may have created. Ultimately fixating on one particular disappointment from a decade ago, I created a myriad of imagined catastrophes that may have ensued. As I did, I found my heart begin to race, my body become more tense and my mind increasingly more constricted. I found myself watching the cycle of rumination and anxiety unfold before my closed eyes. The unnecessary suffering created by my busy mind entangled in the past and future keeping me from the present moment. The peace that is right here; the cushion beneath me, the warmth and weight of the blanket on me and the sun streaming in the window in front of me, warm on my skin.
I realized this morning that this relationship between the thinking mind and my experience of anxiety feels like the dynamic of an unhappy couple. One partner instigates the other, which fuels an unhelpful often critical response that is usually met in kind. This continues on and on in an endless loop of stress and tension; thinking and reactivity, until one partner makes the conscious decision to change this dynamic by responding in a different way. Similarly, what I did for much of my life when I found myself anxious and ruminating was to become self-critical, which left me feeling more anxious, stressed, and isolated. I was my own worst partner for so long. But today was different. Today, when I found myself getting caught in the loop of anxious thoughts and feelings, I found it was easier to approach them with more compassion, acknowledging the suffering that was present and offering some soothing and nurturance. Rather than criticizing or belittling myself, I could hold an image of myself in mind and offer comfort and support as well as an understanding that this dynamic was set up early, by a younger version of myself trying to make sense of my experience. I could hold this younger self in greater compassion, with warmth and wisdom, and remind her that I witnessed and understood her suffering, that she was not alone but rather had an inner ally, to hold her hand when she needed it. That mistakes and challenges were a part of being human, not a personal failing and that she was truly good enough. Recognizing the shift in my internal voice felt almost like magic, though I know it is a quality that I’ve allowed myself to cultivate. And it’s an inner resource that is available to all of us when we need it.