Adventures in Mindful Living
Whether you’re applying mindfulness to your relationships, career, health, or as a spiritual practice, you’ll find helpful stories, tips, and articles that will enrich your understanding of topics such as psychology, meditation, neuroscience, and personal development.
I Still Wake Up with Anxiety
There is a story about the famous Forest Monk Ajahn Cha, which I am probably going to butcher but I got the moral of the story so you can look forward to that at the end of the read.
As is the tradition in Thailand, monks go out for their daily alms round. What this means is that at the forest monastery they pile into a rickety pick-up truck with terrible suspension, hardly anything to hold onto while they zoom through forest roads into town. They walk in town with their begging bowls to collect food from the devoted followers.
Now, Ajahn was known as a fearless enlightened meditator and preached as such. However on this perilous ride through the winding and bumpy road to the town when a novice monk looked to the Ajahn for stability he saw a monk with panic and fear on his face. Perplexed by the terror on the face of the supposed fearless leader he asked the Ajahn why he looked so, “Aren’t you supposed to be fearless?” and the Ajahn reapplied, “Well yes, but that ride was terrifying!”
Our body is a fragile thing of which we have the fortune to take care of. When it feels that it is in physical danger there is not much we can do about it. Often there is no way to think your way out of a scary situation and even when you know there is little danger logically your nervous system still responds with the same intensity of real danger. This is one of the remnants of the environment in which our human nervous systems developed. We are really living with two (or three) brains that are running parallel processes every second of the day. This often causes the experience of believing we “should feel” one way but really feeling another.
Maybe when you started your meditation practice you believed that meditation would completely take away your anxiety, depression, or chronic pain or the like. You may have believed meditation would help you to feel how you think you “should be feeling.” And maybe you’ve already started to experience some benefits. But if you’ve been meditating for over a year you’ve probably started to figure out that what meditation really has to offer is a new response to the natural processes of your body and mind. A life without judgement, the “should” or at least without the judgement of judgement. Sometimes that is enough to reduce anxiety, and depression dramatically or calm the nervous system enough where our pain also reduces or we feel safe enough to be creative, playful and enjoy our life and partners.
However, if you run into difficulty as we all do with money, relationships and health you may find yourself waking in the night with anxiety even though you have been meditating for 20 years, spent years as a monk meditating in the jungle and practice everyday. You’re not doing something wrong, you are a human being. It might just mean that you need to make some choices about how to better care for this fragile human being. There may be space in your life for little more compassion for this person who is trying so hard to get it right.
Happy meditations. You are doing it all right.