The Mindful way to deal with Anxiety : Self Therapeutic Mindfulness Approaches
You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather. - Pema Chödrön
The hope with this article is to shed some light on the ways in which we can help ourselves, at least those who suffer with anxiety or at the more severe end of the spectrum Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) through therapeutic mindfulness.
A summary of what we will explore:
Identifying as or more so, as our essence ( base level consciousness described often in mindfulness traditions as awareness) can reduce intensity of the feelings of anxiety
That identifying as self-concept or more of the time is likely to increase intensity in the feelings of anxiety
Some pratical methods to implement the above concepts
I want to entertain the idea that first it is possible to rid someone of anxiety - not as if you read many of the ideas of evolutionary psychology as paraphrased here “One of the main contributions of the evolutionary perspective is to show that anxiety plays a major role not only in protecting people from non-social dangers, but also in maintaining social stability in social groups.” (Price, 2012) The idea being that anxiety is something all humans intrinsically have, to sense danger both in the real sense & but also in the none threatening ways, social rejection or expulsion etc - nothing new there. So we can see
However if we use this model of evolutionary psychology to both accept that: Yes, we are anxious and, Yes: it keeps us alert to the presence of danger. But however in this knowledge of yes we are anxious and: Yes, we will be anxious a lot our whole damm' lives.
Does their exist a point where we decide that rather then trying to switch it off we just stop caring? In the same way that we may put ourselves into metaphorical not-real yet so real scenario of being a slightly grumpy tired overworked night shift worker who upon hearing the neighbours just too eager car alarm going off for the 24th time that night, Is their a point where you just stop caring about the noise and go to sleep? That which would feed our anxiety and agitation is our complex mental formations such as self-concept.
Identifying with essence
The difference then: is what we primarily identify with: being or doing; being would be concerned with simply attending to the present moment, we could say that if we are being in a very simple way then we are primarily identifying in that moment with Base level consciousness (what I refer to as essence or what you may know as a witness consciousness or awareness).
Base level consciousness: It is simply a thing that is there, a source of life and awareness within a complex human mind and body. A question to ask: would a man in a Coma retain some form of central consciousness that stays with him even if he was able to think for himself in the normal way?
“How can a three-pound mass of jelly that you can hold in your palm imagine angels, contemplate the meaning of infinity, and even question its own place in the cosmos? Especially awe inspiring is the fact that any single brain, including yours, is made up of atoms that were forged in the hearts of countless, far-flung stars billions of years ago. These particles drifted for eons and light-years until gravity and change brought them together here, now. These atoms now form a conglomerate- your brain- that can not only ponder the very stars that gave it birth but can also think about its own ability to think and wonder about its own ability to wonder. With the arrival of humans, it has been said, the universe has suddenly become conscious of itself. This, truly, it the greatest mystery of all.”
― V.S. Ramachandran
that Base level consciousness in relationship to the self-concept: “The components of self-concept are identity, body image, self-esteem, and role performance.” ( Daniels 2004)
Self concept being then all the things we tend to become anxious about. The identity we protect and defend, let’s say we may be anxious If we fear that someone might be gossiping about us or in most cases anxiety being, being worried about things that may happen yet never happen.
That of course is directly fed by the Self-concept, which wouldn’t exist in the man in the coma - by misfortune of being in a coma he wouldn’t be able to be anxious about social rejection or much else really. However if we can agree that the man would still retain some level of consciousness or essence whilst he is alive then we could argue that identifying more so with this essence and less so with self concept
Self-concept gives us something or creates an identity that we then need to defend, protect which then breeds anxiety as we cannot help but ruminate about the prospect we may need to defend our self and self-concept at some unknown point in the future - that yes, may never happen.
“The moment you become aware of the ego in you, it is strictly speaking no longer the ego, but just an old, conditioned mind-pattern. Ego implies unawareness. Awareness and ego cannot coexist.”
― Eckhart Tolle
“The moment you become aware of the ego in you, it is strictly speaking no longer the ego, but just an old, conditioned mind-pattern. Ego implies unawareness. Awareness and ego cannot coexist.” ( Tolle, 2014) As Tolle describes here these aspects of ourselves cannot coexist, identifying with awareness or base level consciousness means we don’t so strongly feel that we are self-concept.
Put simply if we don’t feel like our self-concept and identity is the most important thing then we won’t so strongly feel the need to defend it and therefore a large portion of anxiety dissolves and becomes less intense in our experience.
If we can create some space via approaches such as mindfulness meditation to differentiate between essence and self-concept then we have the power to change our relationship to anxiety and in reality all emotions, feelings pleasant or unpleasant. The importance of self concept becomes less, therefore the negative consequences of defending it dissolve. So we stop fighting other people and ourselves as much, the friction dissolves between what we defend.
How meditation and mindfulness can help
Meditation as a practice generally when practiced in a certain way, most often found in yogic or Buddhist traditions dissolves our psychical and emotional boundaries, long term meditators or those who practice regularly experience a dissolution of these boundaries. For example someone may sit down to meditate for 30 minutes with no intention to do so and after some time may forget where they are or more helpful for our cause temporarily forget who they are, what they do for a living etc.
If we can forget the job we do, what we do, our name, social group, family, individual identity at least temporarily then in doing so the pressures that come with all those things disappear. In regular life it is hard to forget all these things that is why we need to make the individual identity and the defence of it less important.
That means then we need to loosen the importance of focusing on it by focusing on a subject of base level awareness, done in mediation traditions by such techniques as focusing on the breath, body scans, mantra repetition - as in doing these techniques triggers a dissolving of the importance of the individual identity. When it dissolves, even just slightly we give it less focus and therefore it matters less which reduces the intensity of the feelings of anxiety.
1. Price. J, 2013 An Evolutionary Perspective on Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders: https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/43757
2. Daniels. R, 2004 Nursing Fundamentals: Caring & Clinical Decision Making http://www.delmarlearning.com/companions/content/0766838366/students/ch43/summary.asp
3. V.S. Ramachandran, The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human