To many, the header may seem confusing. “The Buddha and anxiety? I’ve never heard such a thing.” Haven’t you? Wasn’t the Buddha’s initial quest to find freedom from suffering? What were his words on suffering? “It is not change that causes suffering but our clinging to the idea that things should remain static.” What is anxiety if not clinging? What is depression if not clinging?
So, for those of us who have struggled with anxiety or depression, the Buddha truly is the great physician. He was caught up in the suffering he saw and felt when he was disillusioned with the reality he thought he knew. When he was confronted with death (the ultimate anxiety) and the fact of impermanence.
Looking to Buddhism or if you are more comfortable, the words of the Buddha, as a healing balm for our situation is the beginning of wisdom. His teachings are the greatest psychology that not only point directly to the heart of our issue but also directly to the path out of it.
I’ve struggled with anxiety for the majority of my life. An anxiety that stemmed from a tumultuous childhood. As I grew up and became a father, it didn’t lessen but increased. When I was diagnosed with heart failure and was told I was dying, it became critical and crippling.
I found myself visiting the E.R. thinking I was dying on an almost bi weekly basis. I became essentially agoraphobic and a hypochondriac. On top of the very real issue of my heart, I had the very real issue of my panic disorder and the job of trying to raise a baby.
As I watched her grow, I also watched my anxiety levels increase and my depression take over. i saw only anger and suffering around me. I saw no hope for her future in this world and I saw no hope for myself. Oddly enough, it was my clinging to the idea of suffering that brought me crashing into Buddhism, again.
Because I had no where else to go, no further bottom to reach (at least in my mind) I was forced to truly look at myself. Sadly, it is this last-ditch Kubler-Ross psychology that bring many of us to our ‘save me’ moments.
Thankfully, because I had an extensive background in eastern philosophy, this wasn’t a pie in the sky re conversion. It happened to be the first time I was truly able to understand the teachings of the Buddha and mindfulness practice.
It was the simple act of mindful breathing that started to bring me out of my panic and the continued effort to be mindful in all of my life’s moments that allowed me to be the father I needed to be, the friend I needed to be and eventually an ordained Buddhist priest, trying to offer these teachings to others who live with a similar experience.
I am not saying that all of my anxiety is gone, or that reading a book on Buddhism or taking vows will cure-all your suffering; it wont. What I can promise you though, is that nothing else will shed light on your situation quite like the Buddha’s teachings and that your diligent practice in mindfulness will make an incredible impact on your life!
We cannot control what happens in life but what we can control is how we react to it. So sit down, breath and begin. We’re on this journey together!
As I mentioned in my initial blog was to just begin with mindful breathing. Don’t worry, you don’t need to sit in meditation for hours on end in the mountains to reap the benefits of mindfulness. In fact, the Buddha’s Eight-fold Path doesn’t speak about living away from people at all. It is simply a prescription for mindful living in the here and now, where you are!
When you start to try and quiet the mind, it feels like it might be impossible. Your mind goes from watching your breathing, to the hot girl you saw last night, to what’s for lunch, to I gotta pee to ad infinitum etc. That’s okay. If you are able to notice how quickly your mind wanders, that’s good! If 20 minutes have gone by and you just realize you’ve been day dreaming…well, that’s okay too.
Don’t force it and don’t judge what happens. It’s not a contest, it’s not to be forced or conquered. it’s about letting go. Try for just a minute..one minute…I am breathing in…I am breathing out. Allow the belly to expand and deflate. Just watch your breath. When you notice you have mentally wandered off, don’t get upset or angry. Just notice it and come back to your breathing.
Try this one minute process a few times a day. Eventually, that one minute will increase and you will be sitting for 5 minute stretches and breathing and quiet are all you experience. For now though…just breath…let me know how you do!