The main reason why I started a meditation practice was because I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was, to put it mildly, freaking out.
As a naturally anxious person, the diagnosis blew the roof off my ability to cope and plunged me into a nightmarish situation. Anyone who’s ever dealt with severe anxiety will tell you that nothing is more important than making it stop.
When my radiation oncologist recommended mindfulness meditation, I felt empowered by the thought of gaining control of my runaway anxiety without the need for medication.
I was hoping meditation would enable me to sit in peace in the midst of chaos. But I imagined that as feeling no stress, as in, being numb to anxiety-provoking stimuli.
That simply doesn’t exist. I wanted to not experience any stressful situations, but there is always stress. We can’t change that. Mindfulness meditation was only going to help me change the way I reacted to it.
So here I am, more than six years after initally starting a daily meditation practice and guess what? I still have stress, I still feel anxiety.
However, what did change is that I can define it now. When I become aware of agitation and anxiety, I know to pause and bring attention to how it manifests in my body.
What does it feel like? Tightness, heat, rapid breath?
Where does it show up? Face, temples, chest, stomach?
Is there a color or sound or smell associated with it? Does it have a “texture”?
I can relax my muscles, sink into the earth, breathe deeply and notice the qualities of anxiety. By pulling apart what is happening, I slow time down. Instead of being hit by a locomotive full force, I walk around the train cars. I can notice how I feel as I pass through the experience.
Is it pleasant? No. Does it always work immediately? No. However, I can see it coming, and as a result, I relax into it. It is the awareness of the anxiety that helps me through it, not a numbness to it. This leads me to acceptance of the situation instead of bracing against it.
On one level, it’s a little discouraging to still be dealing with the unsettling nature of stressors. But I am heartened by the empowerment that mindfulness offers. I have evolved enough that I know I don’t have to go back to being thrashed by the whirlwind. I can sit inside it and watch it swirl and pass through. Every time I do this, it gives me more confidence for the next time.
Is this something that might help you too?