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The root of anxiety

Anxiety. It shows up differently for each of us — as intrusive thoughts, fear, worry, nervousness, tension, unease — but it seems we all have it.

There are the big worries that keep us up at night (e.g., am I good enough? is this the right career? should I stay in this relationship?). There are the little worries that come and go each day (e.g., did I say the right thing? did I make a mistake? am I getting a cold?). And there’s everything in-between (e.g., what if I can’t pay the rent? what if she has a serious illness?). Do you recognize yourself in any of these worries?

Some people are more prone to anxiety than others of course, but have you noticed how your mind gets stuck on a worry it feels the need to solve? All day long many of us are fixing, planning, solving. The goal of our mental rumination is to anticipate and prevent something unwanted from happening.

Before I go further, I don’t want to make anxiety out to be the enemy. Anxiety is a useful and necessary emotion as it tells us to pay attention. Those with high levels of anxiety tend to be sensitive souls attuned to the nuances of life. Yet, for many, our anxiety is on overdrive and creates immeasurable suffering. It can be exhausting!

Looking closely at anxiety, you’ll see that much of what we’re afraid of is loss. We fear the loss of our capabilities. The loss of relationships. The loss of living up to our potential and the gifts we want to offer the world. Loss often feels like a death of ourselves (e.g., the self we know ourselves to be, the self we want to be, the self we were in relationship). Loss IS a death of sorts.

I believe we fear loss especially in our culture because we don’t know how to manage loss. We're afraid of loss and death. Our fixing, solving and worry is meant to help us stay in control, to manage an outcome, to make life certain. We cling to the illusion that we can control life as a way to avoid the inescapable truth that life is impermanent.

There are many ways to work with anxiety, but perhaps the single most important tool I can teach others is to find their own inner stillness. From our inner resting point we can see through the anxious mind. We all have this place inside. We’ve all tasted this place at moments in our life. Some call it spirit. Some call it awareness or loving presence. Some call it an inner guidance or wisdom. Some call it home. It doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is that you develop a practice for turning toward this inner stillness so that you can rely on it when you need it. For some, this place is found in prayer. For others, it is being out in nature, practicing a somatic activity like yoga or dancing, or working with dreams.

When we’re in this place, we’re rooted in our inherent okayness. The fear and worry fall away as we know in our bones we’re connected to something bigger than ourselves. There is a sense of calm and wellness. There is a sense of inner knowing and trustable intuition. We feel aligned, grounded, spacious, and loving. It’s a wordless place, beyond “yes” or “no.” It just is. And it’s all okay.

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