Over the course of my life I’ve experienced a couple of panic attacks, but more significantly many years of my life were plagued by a familiar background anxiety. Almost every situation seemed to involve a degree of tension. It was so common that I felt it was just how life was supposed to be, my natural state.
Every time we believe that there is something we need to avoid or something we need to have happen this can become a source of anxiety for us. So as I’m writing this, I might think “I really don’t want to sound weird.” Then I start worrying about all the ways each sentence might be interpreted. If the fear is strong, I might even become paralyzed, agonizing over every step. Then I think “I’m too anxious to do this.” “What’s wrong with me?” “Normal people can cope with life!” “How do I get out of this?” “How can I stop it?” “Where will I be safe from this anxiety?” Thoughts like these are at the root of most anxiety and of most of the avoidant habits that develop in response, such as compulsive television viewing, gossiping, or the consumption of sedatives.
Thinking that there is something we need to avoid or seek typically happens very quickly when we look at anything. Then as we try to get, or get away from, something we run into the immediate problem that the self-protective/self-conscious anxiety interferes with our performance. This in turn generates more anxiety. The more we struggle the more we sink into the quicksand. The more strenously we seek safety from uncomfortable feelings and thoughts the more we suffer them. “If I could just stop thinking about…!”
Paradoxically, the way anxiety dissolves is through the ceasing of the struggle to end it. We turn toward our experience and give up our attempts to escape. We come to rest in awareness, available to our experience, without buying into the idea that things need to be any particular way. We become self-aware rather than self-conscious. We’re looking at what is here without judging how we’re doing or even needing to “know” why it is the way it is. We don’t even need to judge the judging or change it. Instead we bring agenda-less awareness to the entirety of experience, all the thoughts, feelings, images, and sounds.
As we allow ourselves to just be with whatever is arising, we start to directly realize that we are awareness. This is the discovery of our true nature and the complete dissolution of all anxiety.