Is Meditation for the Anxious?

Empty your mind. 

Abandon your story. 

Allow your thoughts to go by like leaves in a breeze. 

Observe them as clouds floating by in the sky. 

Like flames destroying my home… Everyone I ever loved walking away from me, one by one.” With anxiety it can be scary to sit with one’s own mind. What if I start catastrophizing? Just sitting and trying not to think could feel like a sort of torture.  

And despite the struggle, it still may be worth trying to find meditation that suits you. Research has found amazing differences in the brains of people who are expert meditators. The emotional parts of the brain are different in very good ways. It provides amazing physical health benefits, too. Could 13 minutes make that much difference? Apparently it can.

Barriers to meditation

The current “wellness market”

When people talk about meditation, the term “mindfulness” often comes up. One thing at a time, surrendered to the moment. Being completely with my senses and the environment. That’s great. But anxiety has us mulling over and regretting the past. And it has us fearing the future. In CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) many of the cognitive distortions we identify are about these problematic thoughts. Meditation has us practice that this moment is truly all we have influence over.

The whole “wellness market” has become quite a force. Boujee folks spend a fortune on tunics and tonics. They find the trendy meditation supplies, decor and expensive retreats. To sit on the floor with a candle and breathe deeply does not have to overdraw my bank account.

The impact of old religious stuff

Many times I’ve heard that prayer is talking to God and meditation is listening to God. What if we’re not on speaking terms? Maybe I don’t have a concept of a particular divine at all.

Organized religion of all types has exacted all manner of trauma. As a result, people take giant steps away from anything that reminds them of that. Many people didn’t grow up with any religion at all. Many of their parents became turned off to the whole idea of any sort of spirituality. More and more in our society we are trying to find ways to have that connected feeling and the health benefits without relying on the traditional religions.

My introduction to meditation

When it comes to meditation I did not have a bad experience associated with religion. At 17, I learned how to meditate from the Sisters of Charity. (I was basically a hang-around with various nuns from 16-20, but that’s another story.) They taught me transcendental meditation. You choose a mantra and do breathing. The sisters offered to teach me and did not force anything. The first time I heard the term “social justice” was with these sisters. They were Catholic nuns supporting women’s rights, including abortion rights. The Pope threatened them with excommunication but they pressed on anyway.

Hail Mary!

For me praying the rosary was very similar to transcendental meditation. There’s a built in mantra and eventually I wasn’t thinking at all. I was not actually pondering the mysteries of the rosary but I was peacefully tuned in. Beads for meditation is not just a Catholic invention. There is something cool about having a tactile element. Even bead-making might have a nice meditative quality if you like that sort of thing.

Anne Lamott has written a book called Help, Thanks, Wow. I think this is a great way to approach prayer and meditation. Help, thanks and wow are universal human experiences. Recommended Reading Call it spiritual or not, it’s what we go through. It’s why I love to be out by a lake or trees, desert, mountain, tall grasses, the sky, the moon, the stars. 

Can’t stay focused on my own

Guided meditation is a good option for a lot of people. Turn on an app or a YouTube video or an old school cd or tape and just follow along. Someone else leads you along the journey. There are a myriad of options.

Certainly it will be important to sample things. The point is to get a break from the usual state. It distracts me if I notice myself annoyed by a particular voice. I can either work on freeing myself from my judgmental thoughts or just keep sampling.  

Grateful grounding

Meditation, to me, is not limited to sitting still. I find great benefit in walking meditation which automatically involves grounding. To notice the things around you and not judge. Simply hear, see, smell, taste or touch. Feeling a connection with a Higher Power is a bonus, but it really is not required to get something from meditation.

Doing an activity you love that captures your attention in the moment can be an alternative meditation. Have you ever felt, “in the zone” or in a “flow state?” It can be playing a sport, making art, gardening, fishing or hanging out with your dog. For me now it’s riding my motorcycle.

First summer with Elvira

When I get on my Harley my attention needs to be on what is surrounding me. Can’t worry too much about anything that is more than 15 seconds out of sight. Life depends upon it. Riding is also a great way to remember there is a lot I cannot control. The weather, the potholes and the traffic just are. Equally important is taking full responsibility of the bits I do have control over. I ride 100% sober. When I ride I need to be fully awake. ATGATT-all the gear all the time. Keeping my bike in good repair is good self-care ultimately.

And it’s so easy for me to be in the “thanks” mode when I ride. I find so much to be grateful about. I notice the sky and the air and the growl of my beautiful Milwaukee Eight engine. (IYKYK as they say.) People will say motorcycles are dangerous but staying on the couch would have been much more hazardous for me.

Not pressure but presence

Letting go of thinking there’s a right way to do it will be important. Meditation, for me, feels a lot like sitting or walking quietly with someone I’m in love with. There is a sense of ease. It’s not about pressure but about presence. It is being in a mindset of acceptance. The power is in just living and breathing and experiencing the moment. I am not asking for anything or trying to accomplish anything. There aren’t words. Nothing needs to be done. Just be. There is only that place and time. Dogs I’ve known have been great at this.

And it won’t last long. I will go back to wondering what’s for dinner. Where I am going to stay the night? How many more miles I am gonna ride today? Do those clouds mean it’s going to rain? Here’s the thing, none of that thinking is wrong.

Somehow everything is gonna be alright

If you’re full of anxiety you might have to work harder to find meditation that suits you. It may not be the sitting in the lotus position, all alone in your head. Ponder the following questions. What has you feeling like you are in the right place? What gives you that sense that somehow everything is gonna be alright? Do more of that. If you haven’t found it yet, I encourage you to persist. Try stuff out. It’s never too late. All things considered, it will be well worth the effort.

Leave a Reply