1/31/2009

What Is Anxiety?


Observe and find out, once and for all: what is anxiety? Is anxiety a metaphysical signal of disaster sent from the future? Or is it merely a neurological sensation in your body, in the present moment? Which of these possibilities is reality and which is superstition?

For most of Western history, we've been living under the delusion, the superstition, that our anxiety is a metaphysical reality consisting of thoughts, very important thoughts, about the future. We trust that these thoughts are both real and true. Thus we prophecy our own doom, projecting our anxiety into the future as thought. Our thought becomes an intention, because thoughts driven by fear are the most powerful intentions.

But the truth is, our anxieties are simply neural impulses arising from this body: its hypothalamus, solar plexus, and adrenal gland. We do not have to convert these uncomfortable impulses into mental movies, fraught with images of the future. We can simply rest in the sensations as they arise in the belly, the heart, the head. We let go of the mind's melodrama and embrace the sensation that gives rise to the image before the image becomes solidified into a fear. We discover a great freedom: our neurological discomfort doesn't have to be projected as a story. Indeed, converting our brain's sensations into movies and words just sucks us into the future, and the future only exists as imagination. Let us awaken and understand this after so many lifetimes of superstition: The future exists only as imagination in the present moment; its images arise from nerve impulses in the brain.

Instead of fabricating the future, we can rest in Presence: the dignity of this body, the dignity of this breath, the dignity of each sensation as it arises. Pinpoint-awareness of a sensation right now takes us deep into a single photon of light, which quantum physics reveals to be the instantaneous ripple of an infinite energy-field. Each angry, fearful, or anxious feeling is really an opportunity to rest in the ever-expanding bliss of a radiant sea.

Resting in our anxiety as sensation allows a graceful sacrament to occur. The neural impulse of anxiety blossoms and dissolves as we bathe it in awareness. Just welcome the sensation, deeply observing it just as it is, whether hot or cold, numb or tingling, sharp or dull. Give the sensation compassionate attention and space. This is all we need to undo. Then watch anxiety blossom and dissolve into free energy. You will discover a great secret: this body is made of fire.

Anxiety is the same fiery stuff as joy. One is tightly bound and the other is loosened. But both are woven of the same threads. When pain is embraced in the space of awareness, it loosens like a knot floating in water.

What is this body but a temple where we offer the pain of centuries on the alter of conscious sensation, to dissolve into pure light? Let us not interfere with the Grace of this sacrament. It simply happens in the patience of space. And it happens, finally, as a dance of joy.

Your body is radiant. Whether filled with pain or pleasure, the radiance of your body is God. "Therefor, glorify God in your body." (1 Cor 6: 20)

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