Who wants to be mindful of their anxiety? I ask that question a bit tongue in cheek, but how can their be any relief from anxiety by becoming attuned to our inner experience? Shouldn't I be taking pills by the handful, or perhaps consuming food or drugs or luxuries or sex as an antidote to my anxiety?
No, it turns out that there can be relief from anxiety by simply becoming more aware of your thoughts and managing them. You do not always have to believe or operate on your thoughts as if they were truth.
I first experienced that process early in my AA days, when I was desperately trying to rebuild my life, and could not wait for the external world to look just right so I did not have to worry about it, and the Old Timers would say, "Gratitude is the Attitude", and because I was closer to death than life then, and aware that what I had tried to create was a failure, I created a few gratitude thoughts, and felt immediate relief from the anxiety.
The problem was that that the feeling of relief did not last long, seldom did the feeling last even as long as it might take to consume a beer, and of course I had anxiety about that, since somewhere I had picked up the idea that good feelings where supposed to be as intense as rapture and last forever.
But, grasping at straws, I kept creating thoughts about gratitude, for the beauty of the natural world, and slowly it dawned on me that I needed to keep repeating thoughts about gratitude if I wanted to have feelings of gratitude for longer periods of time.
After all, when using I kept repeating thoughts about using so gratitude thoughts must be the same.
So that was my first serious attempt at the concept of mindfulness, and as my life stabilized a bit, I began to be aware of both Western and Eastern traditions in regards to our cognitions.
I had actually even tried Transcendental Meditation as an antidote to anxiety several years prior to the collapse of my life, and I really enjoyed the experience. It felt good to sit quietly and repeat my mantra and observe other thoughts as they rolled by, but I lived with a bunch of guys near our old college campus and they would make it a point to disturb me if they saw me sitting quietly, eyes closed, so I gave it up.
In those early days of recovery, I read quite a bit about the roots of AA, and studied our Western research about addictions, all the while regularly practicing the 11th Step of AA, which calls for Daily Prayer and Meditation.
The 11th Step was and is the most important step for me experientially and slowly it dawned on me, through both my experience and my reading that life could be lived more prayerfully, if I kept paying attention to the thoughts I had.
For example, Les Fehmi,Ph.D., who is a many year student of Zen Meditation, has put together a process he calls Open Focus, which involves using space around things, including thoughts, as a way to widen focus, which relieves feelings of anxiety.
And science has continued to help us to understand the relationship between meditation and our bodies and mindfulness, which means you need to read Sharon Begley's book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, which is the story of how Buddhist meditation actually makes certain parts of the brain bigger.
Not sure about you, but I think bigger is better when it comes to brains.
So these days I work with anger management and domestic violence clients, who are not interested in learning mindfulness for their anxiety, they are mostly interested in getting done with my "stupid class" and getting back to their regular routine.
While I know the benefit of mindfulness, I want my clients to have an experience of it which is powerful enough to stay in mind for awhile, so I need a hard hitting tool for mindfulness anxiety.
Lucky for me, science has helped my out here, and I have been lead to the Heartmath heart rate variability tool which is a wonderful way to start the mindfulness anxiety process.
Not too many years ago, no one knew that they heart had a significant network of neurons, a brain of its own if you will, and no none knew that the heart's brain had a tremendous impact on my other brain, if you will, literally heart beat by heart beat.
The Heartmath heart rate variabilty biofeedback process is computerized so clients get some real time "see it and believe it" images on the computer screen which show changes in heart rate variability based on their thinking and breathing, and almost everyone I have used this tool with is more skilled at mindfulness than they are aware.
But the nice thing about biofeedback is that the process is learned, and this process is then available for use on any given heart beat. If the issue is anxiety, the client can create a thought of appreciation (gratitude is the attitude!) and attend to their breathing and viola, a change in feelings, and then if clients get it that they can practice this tool every five minutes for a couple of heart beats, they can stay close to the relaxed, feeling of contentment that Heartmath heart rate variability makes available.
In fact, I teach my clients that mindfulness for anxiety or depression or spiritual growth is not unlike the process of driving a car, where we are adjusting the position of the vehicle on the road constantly based on our evaluation of changing conditions. Those conditions are changing with each revolution of the wheel. And there are times when I arrive at my destination with little or no memory of the drive because my body remembers how to drive the car, so I want to make my Heartmath into the same kind of habit, running in the background like Windows runs in the background of your computer screen.
Try Heartmath for five hours. If you are like most of my clients, you will have learned it, and then you will want to learn more about other mindfulness anxiety tools.
Would You Share What You Are Most Grateful For?
Very early in my personal growth experience, a wise person taught me to use the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was resentful or afraid and that phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.