Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Way I Was Born

It's there, almost always. And I especially notice whenever I am sitting still.

'It' is an habitual state of fear that keeps on sticking and causing much unpleasantness. I used to think, if only I practiced long enough, maybe it would go away, for good. After all, Mingyur Rinpoche rid himself of a crippling panic disorder after three years going away on a retreat . . . 

More and more, I am inclined to give up that fantasy. Rather, I have come to see 'it' as part of the deal, a genetically inherited condition of semi-permanent anxiety, wired into me from birth and amply nurtured by a mother also dealt a similar card. My daughter, upon whom I can always count to tell me the truth, said to me the other day, "You are one of the most anxious persons I know!" She is right.

I had reasons to be anxious as a child. My mother did have what they called in those days a weak heart. She'd had rheumatic fever as a child and she had, as a consequence, she lived with a chronic coronary insufficiency and I worried about that. She actually died when I was in my very early 20s, so I've passed more than 50 years now without a mother. I wish I'd had one longer, but when I was a child, I worried about it a lot. But you know what I've found, Krista? There are people who are given to fretting without a fretful environment. I think it's actually — it's a — it's a genetic glitch of neurology and that it happens to some people and not for other people.
Actually, the Buddha said we have one of five genetic fallback glitches when we're challenged. He said some people fret, some people get angry, some people lose heart and all their energy goes and they don't know what to do with themselves, some people think, "Uh-oh, it's me. I didn't do things right. It's always my fault. I messed things up." And some people need to be sensually soothed. They think, "Where's a donut shop? Where's the pizza?" People have different tendencies. It was very, very helpful for me as an adult to learn that because it completely comes without a judgment. I don't have to say I am a chronic fretter. I could say, you know, when I'm challenged, fretting arises in my mind and it's not a moral flaw. It's very good for people who have a short fuse to be able to think, "You know, I have this unusual neurological glitch."
I tell it to people that my glitch is that "when in doubt, worry." It came with the equipment. I'm also short and I have brown eyes. If I could see that in the same neutral, it just came with the equipment, then I don't have to feel bad about it, but I can work with it wisely. That's really the important part, when we see as adults what it is that our fallback glitch is. You can say, "Uh-oh." And I think, in a certain way, that's a sign of wisdom when a person begins to be able to delineate this is what happens to me under tension.
As a piece of self-knowledge that makes a break in between a certain next step and that next step and say, "Whoa." So when I'm in an airport, for instance, or if I come to a place where I've agreed to meet my husband on a corner of a certain street at 5:00 and I come there at 5:00 and he's not there and it's five past five and he's not there, I could start to think maybe this, maybe that, maybe this, maybe that.
But I think to myself, wait a minute. That is just my peculiar neurological glitch kicking in. Probably not, you know, I could just wait here quietly. I could look in the windows. I could look at the people. I could say relaxing phrases to my own mind. I could wish well to the passersby. There are just lots of other things I can do.
Sylvia and I, and million others . . .


  1. Let go of the fantasy, for sure. It's an aspect of being emotionally attached to the condition, whatever its true origin. Let go, yet keep noticing your anxiety, quietly... as if from 'behind'. Without reacting to it in any way (as best you can, of course). Who is it that is being anxious? What is she like? Her qualities? What are the moments that trigger her the most? What is it that she feels when it's triggered? What is she holding on to? What is it she needs?

    Really 'feel' her. No need to verbally ask these kinds of questions and then go shuffling through your thoughts, speculations, and memories to come up with ideas, the real inner-opening can't take place that way.

    Allow the Insight to arise naturally, on its own, from the open inner-awareness that is cultivated in simply observing 'her', and over time, however long it takes.

    Not as your primary practice, on the cushion as it were, but as an extension of it into your daily activities, cultivating an active and aware faculty of Insight, that arises naturally, and through regular practice.

    You'll be surprised how it can open up, release, how you can be deeply moved, and what you will see, the veil that lifts, and how the ordinary mind has no way of truly anticipating or grasping it. Be patient, and watch...

    Feeling is like a faculty, and inseparable from Insight when it's involved in the 'human dimension' of activity.

    Yours with Metta.

  2. This post really resonated with me. So much so that I wrote about my own battles with low level anxiety. I am participating as a blogger in the Real Happiness meditation challenge with Sharon Salzberg and have experienced much relief through my practice. Thank you.

  3. 'thebeyondwithin', thank you for your wisdom.

    I have great compassion for this anxious part of what I refer to as 'me'. And it is also a great source of compassion for others and their suffering.

  4. Deb, so glad you have found the gift of practice! Thank you for sharing it here.

    Much metta,