Saturday, March 27, 2010

Down The Anxiety List

Lately, I have been feeling extremely restless, and for good reasons. True to its 'full catastrophe' nature, life has been handing me a few rotten cards, stressors that I wish would go away, and seem to worsen instead. The usual tricks of calmness, concentration, equanimity, meditation, deep breathing, exercise,  and self-talk, have only helped with staying calm on the surface. Inside, the agitation, and the free-floating fear, have continued, unabated. In my search for a better way, I remembered an exercise, that Gil shared during his last year's day-long on The Five Hindrances: Restlessness, (4/3/09 talk series in AudioDharma library). It goes like this:

Take a piece of paper and pen, and in a calm, loving, accepting, meditative space, write down a list of things which are unresolved for you. Then, looking at the whole list, answer the following questions: Which of them come up during meditation? Are they in background, foreground? Which of them are best resolved through inner personal work? Which of them are better resolved by talking to someone in the world Which of them require you doing both? What does list say about you? What might be inner work you are called to do, to address list of unresolved issues?  How is it that meditation practice can be helpful for addressing items on list?

Quickly, I came up with a list of five items, that are causing me great grief. And wrote down, next to each, the thoughts and feelings attached to each one. Lots of emotions there: fear, aversion, powerlessness, greed, doubt, sadness, tiredness, guilt, frustration, anger . . . Each issue with its own set. In all cases, I realized there is little I can do to influence the outcome, and it is clear the only work to be done is around graceful acceptance of what cannot be changed on the outside, and about skillfully dealing with unhelpful mind states inside. Replacing each unwholesome thought with its wholesome counterpart. And overcoming Mara's soldiers of confusion, greed, anger, fear, and doubt, with great clarity, letting go, love, calm, and wisdom.

Now, I know what to do. And I feel greatly relieved. 

I realize once more the crossovers between traditional Buddhist mindfulness practice, and healing approaches from contemporary psychology. This exercise is very close to CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) exercise of Dysfunctional Thought Record, that I used while working as a therapist with psychiatric patients, many years ago. The integration between the two disciplines is even more complete now, with new fields of MBCT (mindfulness based cognitive therapy) and MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction). 

I would love to hear from you on this topic, particularly after you have done this exercise.

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