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Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
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3/18/13 10:50 AM
I'd like to ask the community to weigh in on the effect insight practices (and samatha) have on anxiety in daily life. First: general levels of anxiety: do they continue to manifest with practice for most people? After path attainments? More in some insight stages than others? Is there a general anxiety disorder that is impervious to practice, even awakening?

Next: phobias. Do phobias respond to this practice, and if so, what specific practices are particularly helpful?

Finally: how many of you out there started this practice because of anxiety?

In my case: I started because of persistent generalized anxiety symptoms, not to mention two particularly troublesome phobias. I had hoped that with SE at least I would no longer be shaky under certain circumstances. This has not turned out to be the case; I still get that sinking feeling, that choking feeling, that loss of motor control. But I make far less of a drama out of it now. I still get depressed and anxious and have mediocre, uneven sleep. I'm working with physical practices (tai chi) and with Chinese medicine. I used to take gabapentin, cymbalta, and trazodone for all this stuff but gradually withdrew from all three as I became concerned about dependency and side effects. I sometimes think I should resume at least one or two of them, but haven't done so yet. I wanted a read on a baseline. My baseline is manageable, but not exactly easy.

Insight makes this not all about me any more, but I have compassion for this body and this mind, and wonder what further developments in practice will bring. I know some insight stages produce more symptoms off-cushion than others, but have had terrible symptoms during times of high equanimity. I have also had terrible anxiety following a path (first), and on other occasions lovely feelings of peace post-path (three). There seems to be little clear correlation, or at least not a clear pattern. I think, really, that all of these phenomena are multi-causal and vary greatly from person to person.

Still, I want to throw this question out there, and ask for people's experiences. Thanks, Laurel

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/18/13 10:29 PM as a reply to Jane Laurel Carrington.
I've practiced to deal with anxiety and anger and it has helped enormously for both. When I first started noting I could see some of the massive anxiety slowly chipping away but it was difficult when dealing with difficult people. Equanimity is necessary to make a major dent into anxiety. My problem is still anger though now I get less headaches from it but more of a warm buzz in my head. I'm still working on vedana which I think I've delayed too long.

In terms of phobias I don't have any so I can't be of much help. I've seen some psychology videos point out how to deal with phobias, which is to continually expose the patient to the object of the phobia so they get used to it. If at minimum they may still have the phobia but likely they are more equanimous and can cope better.

In my experience things I'm afraid of often are what Buddhists and Stoics point out which is the idea of the object of the fear. Looking at Vedana and Sanna (recognition) to see what the mind hones in on and what details it leaves out to provide the craving or aversion helps to rectify distorted perceptions. The brain is perceiving minimal data and if it could get in touch with more to have a more rounded opinion of the object there should be some relief. You want to note the recognition and the vedana from the thoughts and catch this when the stress is just starting up. If there's some stress coming on I look at the perception that came before it. I also like to note "unpleasant" for unpleasant thoughts because they make you feel unpleasant.

“We are not disturbed by what happens to us, but by our thoughts about what happens to us.” - Epictetus

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/19/13 4:16 PM as a reply to Jane Laurel Carrington.
I started meditating because of anxiety. When I started, my 'resting' pulse was close to 100 bpm and now it's in the low 70s.

I also started getting regular exercise and purposely replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones, so it's hard to know what to attribute this to.

I still have a ton of anxiety at times, but I'm now much, much better at not building on it (e.g. I no longer have sequences like "Oh no, the bus is going to be late", "Oh no, I'm going to be late", "Oh no, I'm going to get fired").

For me anxiety is still there but there's not nearly as much suffering.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/19/13 5:39 PM as a reply to Dee Miller.
The remedy I use for anxiety is to break the phenomenon analytically down into mind and body. Note where each component lies. Anxiety manifests as physical sensations (often clenching or burning in the midsection or shoulders), plus thoughts to the effect of, "Oh fuck, oh fuck..."

The mental component is easily dispatched. Observing a purely mental component stops it in its tracks. So you note "thinking" or "picturing" or "anticipating", and it's no longer threatening.

The physical component, however, is recalcitrant. Noting "anxiety" or "tightness" or "worry" or "burning" doesn't make it stop. In some cases the sensations will increase. This is why I think the notion of "mindfulness" as a remedy for all bad feelings is absurd. If we're talking about noting or bare attention, "mindfulness" can easily make some states worse.

What you need here is a little bit of theory garnered from the progress of insight. The analytical distinction between mind and body is basic. You need to (a) observe the physical sensation, (b) segregate it from the mental component, (c) comprehend their non-identity, and (d) have absolutely no expectation that the physical component will go away.

Put more simply: train your mind not to see the physical sensation as an emotion but just as a physical sensation (which is what it is, once you still the mental part). Emotion = mental state & physical state. The physical state perceived in the absence of the mental state is no different than a stubbed toe, indigestion, a headache, etc. It carries no intrinsic meaning.

Start with very low-grade forms of anxiety first, like maybe the nervousness you feel while rushing to get to work in the morning. Break the experience down into mental and physical. Notice that simply observing the mental side from a detached perspective brings it under control. Notice that the physical side is not as easily dismissed, but that the physical component doesn't carry any intrinsic meaning with it. When the mental side arises again, be quick to observe it so it stops right in its tracks.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/19/13 6:29 PM as a reply to Jane Laurel Carrington.
Ive unfortunately resigned to the fact that practice and paths alone will not get rid of my fear problem. My issue is bigger than conventional fear. It just doesnt seem to behave in the same way every other type of suffering does, so much suffering and negativity has fallen away for me since hitting path, and Id be confident to say alot of that stuff has gone forever, fear on the other hand seems to raise its head and stop me in my tracks quite alot. There has been a few times where I thought it was dealt with, only for me to see it come back again (or realise that I simply hadnt faced the object of fear yet and just convinced myself that that part of my life was fine now)


Thankfully the effect its having on my self esteem and well being is a tiny fraction of what it used to have before I began to practice, but nonetheless I dont think I will be truly liberated and at total peace until its dealt with.

For me the phobia happens when Im caught in a performance situation that I cant get out of, where basically "all eyes are on me", but even then its situational, so its not often I get a full blown panic, very rare in fact.

While its not stopping me from living my life, there are still very simple or enjoyable things in life that I cant seem to do because of fear.

What bothers me is I really thought I took the right approach about a year ago when it was coming up, and it seemed to work for quite a while, but high stress situations as of late seem to have brought it all out again.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/20/13 11:35 AM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
Fitter Stoke:
The physical component, however, is recalcitrant. Noting "anxiety" or "tightness" or "worry" or "burning" doesn't make it stop. In some cases the sensations will increase. This is why I think the notion of "mindfulness" as a remedy for all bad feelings is absurd. If we're talking about noting or bare attention, "mindfulness" can easily make some states worse.


I totally agree that mindfulness makes certain states worse. This has been my experience

Start with very low-grade forms of anxiety first, like maybe the nervousness you feel while rushing to get to work in the morning. Break the experience down into mental and physical. Notice that simply observing the mental side from a detached perspective brings it under control. Notice that the physical side is not as easily dismissed, but that the physical component doesn't carry any intrinsic meaning with it. When the mental side arises again, be quick to observe it so it stops right in its tracks.


I can see this happening. The physical shaking and even the queasiness do not go away, but it's possible not to attach significance to it, and avoid the spiral of escalating thoughts/sensations. So far, though, I'm not to the point of not caring. The escalation, once underway, is almost impossible to stop. If it never gets going a person can deal reasonably. But some situations are too stress-inducing for me to stop the escalation at the beginning.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/20/13 11:38 AM as a reply to wylo ..
wylo .:

Thankfully the effect its having on my self esteem and well being is a tiny fraction of what it used to have before I began to practice, but nonetheless I dont think I will be truly liberated and at total peace until its dealt with.

For me the phobia happens when Im caught in a performance situation that I cant get out of, where basically "all eyes are on me", but even then its situational, so its not often I get a full blown panic, very rare in fact.

While its not stopping me from living my life, there are still very simple or enjoyable things in life that I cant seem to do because of fear.

What bothers me is I really thought I took the right approach about a year ago when it was coming up, and it seemed to work for quite a while, but high stress situations as of late seem to have brought it all out again.


This is my experience. I think I naively hoped that I'd be invulnerable once I hit stream entry. No dice. Then I thought further paths would do it. I've gotten 3 and it's still there. I am trying not to develop a head full of expectations about 4th path.

The fact that stuff can seem to calm down for awhile and then come back with a vengeance is very consistent with my experience. And there are simple or enjoyable things I can't do because of fear, and I like you believe that it's hard to imagine being truly liberated as long as there is persistent fear. It's not just the feared situation that creates problems, but anticipation as well.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/20/13 11:46 AM as a reply to Jane Laurel Carrington.
Jane Laurel Carrington:
Fitter Stoke:
The physical component, however, is recalcitrant. Noting "anxiety" or "tightness" or "worry" or "burning" doesn't make it stop. In some cases the sensations will increase. This is why I think the notion of "mindfulness" as a remedy for all bad feelings is absurd. If we're talking about noting or bare attention, "mindfulness" can easily make some states worse.


I totally agree that mindfulness makes certain states worse. This has been my experience




Is it mindfulness that makes certain states worse, or is it a certain way of labeling during noting?

In my experience bare mindfulness (without any noting) nearly always makes things better (if often only minimally so), whereas using labels like the above does make it worse - but this seems to be because they're already 'loaded' labels and they feed into the states. You feel anxiety, you note 'anxiety', and by doing this you create a negative 'horizon of expectations' for the subsequent feeling. This can be quite subtle actually. For example, I remember Shinzen Young (I think) recommending noting certain types of pain as 'pressure', which seems to be a neutral term, but as I personally consider 'pressure' a negatively loaded term, it only made the pain worse.

This is why my labels are mostly meaningless (beep, beep, beep) or I use really vague and dismissive words like 'whatever'. Seems to work fine with pretty much everything.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/20/13 11:54 AM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
Good point. Although mindfulness can exacerbate extremely unpleasant sensations just by dwelling on them. They may break up into tiny bits of data that no longer hold together as a "bad feeling," but they could also become more intense when a laser-beam focus is turned on them. Sometimes I can withstand going there, and sometimes I need an extremely light touch. On the whole, I'd say one has to experiment with it. In my case, I can take a low-stakes performance situation, and quietly tell myself when the bow starts to shake, go to the place that scares you just a little (mostly the lower part of the bow). With any kind of trauma, gentleness is essential. This is particularly true in cases where shame is involved. Rebecca Bradshaw once said that shame needs to be touched "with a feather."

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/20/13 12:08 PM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
I agree with you that "loaded" labels can make anxiety worse. I think part of the problem is noting something as "anxiety, anxiety" is itself a large, inexact thing. It reifies anxiety rather than breaking it down into parts. It's like a mega-aggregate.

Two further thoughts -

1. shinzen young wrote an article talking about breaking anxiety down into, physical sensations, shortness of breath sensations, mental dialogue, and emotions. So it is a further breakdown from even the mind/body distinction. I find this framework helpful as an investigaiton. I believe the artiicle is on shinzen's website

2. thannissaro bhikkhu (sp?) had a multipart dhamma talk on the annapasati sutta. i'm not recalling the website, it may have been dhamma talks. he talked about the term "calming feeling formations" (or something like that) from the annapannsati sutta. he only touched on this briefly, but he said basically, to go from noting "very unpleasant, very unpleasant" (at the level of vedana) to "unpleassant, unpleasant" to "slightly unpleasant" etc. It was something like that.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/22/13 11:29 PM as a reply to Jane Laurel Carrington.
Jane Laurel Carrington:
Good point. Although mindfulness can exacerbate extremely unpleasant sensations just by dwelling on them. They may break up into tiny bits of data that no longer hold together as a "bad feeling," but they could also become more intense when a laser-beam focus is turned on them. Sometimes I can withstand going there, and sometimes I need an extremely light touch. On the whole, I'd say one has to experiment with it. In my case, I can take a low-stakes performance situation, and quietly tell myself when the bow starts to shake, go to the place that scares you just a little (mostly the lower part of the bow). With any kind of trauma, gentleness is essential. This is particularly true in cases where shame is involved. Rebecca Bradshaw once said that shame needs to be touched "with a feather."


Jane,

have you ever heard about Youngy Mingur Rinpoche's struggle with panic attacks when he was young? He cured himself when he used his panic as the object of meditation. He meditated on the feelings of fear in the body and mind. Check his videos on Youtube. Bonus: he's very funny.

I have struggled with these issues during different phases of my life, and I have found this helpful. I also like the noting technique mentioned above - don't say "anxiety", say "feelings" or "tingling" or "heat" or whatever...I usually end up feeling, "oh, it's just some tingling in my stomach. That's all."

As to the concern that "it gets worse" when you focus on it, I think there is no way to be cured without experiencing it more strongly at first. If you want it to go away, it won't. If you can accept that it's there, there is some hope. That's what exposure is all about - they cure you of your fear by making you afraid until your body accepts the fear. Meditating on it directly, either with Mingur Rinpoche's technique or with a noting technique or something similiar, is a kind of exposure therapy - you're not making it go away, your accepting and inviting it in.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/23/13 9:57 AM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
Fitter Stoke:
The physical component, however, is recalcitrant. Noting "anxiety" or "tightness" or "worry" or "burning" doesn't make it stop. In some cases the sensations will increase. This is why I think the notion of "mindfulness" as a remedy for all bad feelings is absurd. If we're talking about noting or bare attention, "mindfulness" can easily make some states worse.


This is my experience as well. That is why I turned to Tibetan deity visualization. It did take care of the physical component as well. The very next day of trying it, a lot of tightness in my body was gone and I could touch the toes of my feet with my hands.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/25/13 5:18 PM as a reply to Jane Laurel Carrington.
Jane, just wondering have you done any form of professional therapy etc? I see you were on some drugs. I bit the bullet today and called into a doctor and she seemed quite confident that my issues could be overcome with a therapist (of whom she recommended).

It was quite a turn of events for me, since all this began I never ever ever dreamed I'd end up visiting a therapist. Not to say the issue was caused by practice at all. Quite the contrary. It took a path to liberation to instill the realisation that I actually have a huge problem.

Visiting the doctor was probably the most enlightened thing I've done about this issue so far.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/25/13 7:54 PM as a reply to wylo ..
wylo .:


Visiting the doctor was probably the most enlightened thing I've done about this issue so far.


I am a fan of 'doin' what ya gotta do' sometimes, even if it isn't the ideal that you might someday hope to achieve. If you read the thread that Chris Dipster started in the Miscellaneous section on the same topic, he correctly (more or less) describes the problem of "safety behaviors" that serve to maintain anxiety. Taking medication almost certainly qualifies, but so does things deep breathing. In fact, some mental health researchers have even begun to question whether anxiety patients should even be taught deep breathing (as is standard today) because it can serve as a safety mechanism.

However, people need to function in their lives and there are times when it's just not possible to do some form of Buddhist practice sufficiently well to keep it together. Then therapy, medication, deep breathing, whatever you need is worth doing to stabilize the situation and keep your life moving forward while you are working to uproot the causes of the problem more deeply over time.

From personal experience, I think the only way to be "cured" is to accept that you may never be fully cured. That is to say, if you have a strong pattern of anxious responses in certain situations, that may never go away completely when faced with that situation. But that anxious response can be managed so that it's not debilitating. Ideally, you come to see anxiety as part of the flow of experience, sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant, sometimes neutral. Life will always present you with an ever-changing flow of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral, so if it wasn't anxiety, it would be something else - sickness, relationship troubles, financial difficulties, the death of loves ones, etc. These things have to happen, you just never know which ones will happen when. Shinzen Young says that if you can't have equanimity toward challenges, have equanimity with your lack of equanimity.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
3/26/13 11:11 AM as a reply to wylo ..
wylo .:
Jane, just wondering have you done any form of professional therapy etc? I see you were on some drugs. I bit the bullet today and called into a doctor and she seemed quite confident that my issues could be overcome with a therapist (of whom she recommended).

It was quite a turn of events for me, since all this began I never ever ever dreamed I'd end up visiting a therapist. Not to say the issue was caused by practice at all. Quite the contrary. It took a path to liberation to instill the realisation that I actually have a huge problem.

Visiting the doctor was probably the most enlightened thing I've done about this issue so far.


Yeah, I've been going to therapists for years. It's still sticky. No idea why. If I keep on talking about it, though, I'll get into a complaining narrative to the effect that things that help others don't help me, and what a pity that is.

I am at the moment torn between accepting it and battling back against it. I've gone back and forth several times just on this thread. What I'm leaning toward now, though, is getting back to my practice and advancing in order to gain clarity.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
anxiety sensations dealing with trauma queasiness phobias anxieties escalation traumas spiral hotter colder hotter colder game repeatable experiment defense mechanism
Answer
3/26/13 7:47 PM as a reply to Jane Laurel Carrington.
There's a lot of good advice in this thread. You can sense the work everyone's done. What Fitter Stoke wrote really covered much of what I was going to write, but I saw your reply to his and thought I'd offer some things that have worked for me. This may be common understanding here - so please forgive me stating anything obvious.

I actually came into *this* accidentally. I was dealing with trauma and anxiety and found myself in the territory this website is dedicated to. I will note that this is what worked for me and that it is not for everyone (it is likely not safe for everyone post A&P), but for I found the result has been that the world in which I live has changed. So you could say that the traumas and anxieties are gone, but in experience I just feel like my normal self (sans these aspects) while the change feels like the world around me has been transformed to one that feels safer, friendlier, and in general a lot more fun, plus a ton more of my thinking has been freed (from anxiety) to focus on what it would appear I'm interested in.

Having said that, you wrote in response to Fitter:
I can see this happening. The physical shaking and even the queasiness do not go away, but it's possible not to attach significance to it, and avoid the spiral of escalating thoughts/sensations. So far, though, I'm not to the point of not caring. The escalation, once underway, is almost impossible to stop. If it never gets going a person can deal reasonably. But some situations are too stress-inducing for me to stop the escalation at the beginning.


So the entry point is very familiar; where you wrote
The physical shaking and even the queasiness do not go away, but it's possible not to attach significance to it, and avoid the spiral of escalating thoughts/sensations.
Using largely plain descriptive language here to support a repeatable practice...what I would do is literally do a reverse of "avoid the spiral of escalating thoughts/sensations". I head straight for "the spiral". If you remember the "hotter/colder" game we played as children, as variant of concentration practice, play hotter colder with the *escalating sensations*. Essentially as you keep working towards the "spiral" you are getting "hotter" and there are signs that will let you know you are getting to the right place
  1. first, the "radio player" voice of the mind, will let you know by *escalating thoughts*
  2. for me, a deeper sign the heart will palpitate with an atrial fibrillation
  3. for me, a even deeper sign is a slight to moderate convulsive movement in the gut
In particular, I note these signs as progress towards "hotter" because the mind may be telling/yelling and possibly screaming at you to "stop". That is a good sign you're going in precisely the right direction, ie your attention and concentration are fixed on sensations and thoughts that are "hotter". Keep your concentration focused and when one *sensation and/or thought pair* begin to hit upon an even *hotter sensation or thought pair*, allow attention to go to the "hotter" one, in other words - allow attention to make a gentle switch to trade up. :-)

Existing insight (seeing through content to context) in this can be helpful, for obvious reasons, but isn't necessary. I'll also note this can lead to insight. If you have good insight practice already, but seeing through content it isn't yet an instant reflex, then use practice to bring yourself to context first. Then allow yourself to get lost in the content. Yes, that's right. You have to let go and allow yourself to become what you behold (context becomes content again). If being context is a reflex, no worries as it'll co-pilot of its own accord. If being context (insight to see through content) isn't in the repertoire, no worries; essentially by simply holding attention towards the energetic center, the pocket of your consciousness that's giving you the anxiety can come to the surface - given enough time in concentration in the "hottest spot" found in the "hotter colder" game. And simply by holding concentration long enough, the center (aka "spiral" as you said) will flicker and fade like a candle at the end of its wick. With that fading, don't stop; keep concentration for a while (at least minutes) into the quiet. Content is silently dropping (attachment withering) leaving only context even if you can't see this for a while.

It is always best to do this when the anxiety is freshest, that is when it is naturally arising, but do this practice in private until you're confident you can handle it in more public places. If you can't get somewhere private, note/write down the thoughts arising around the sensation and use them for sitting. Tears, sobbing, and many other phenomenologies will occur. Just note them (don't resist them, but don't act on their content - this is not a good time to get up and tell someone off even if every fiber of your being says so...that's just the content talking and right now you're giving yourself to something not to act on, rather something to unfetter.)

You may think you've got it, just to see it pop up again. You may note that the anxiety is greatly weakened and/or that there's a second trigger to the anxiety...rinse and repeat. After a while, you can do this anywhere and your ability to see through such content becomes an unshakable reflex.

Finally, the clearest sign we realize the anxiety is truly gone, is usually when you begin to worry what will happen to you without the anxiety to 'shepherd/push' you (believe it or not). And this belies another phenom in this that to fully resolve one thing, such as a defense mechanism, can then reveal yet another wound it was covering. And in this sense, things can seem better having traversed a "layer" and then worse for a while as we dismantle ourselves.

Hope this helps,

Dan from Virginia

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
4/26/13 7:38 AM as a reply to Dan From Virginia.
I actually came into *this* accidentally. I was dealing with trauma and anxiety and found myself in the territory this website is dedicated to.


Dark night?

I will note that this is what worked for me and that it is not for everyone (it is likely not safe for everyone post A&P),


Why is it not for everyone?


what I would do is literally do a reverse of "avoid the spiral of escalating thoughts/sensations". I head straight for "the spiral". If you remember the "hotter/colder" game we played as children, as variant of concentration practice, play hotter colder with the *escalating sensations*. Essentially as you keep working towards the "spiral" you are getting "hotter" and there are signs that will let you know you are getting to the right place
  1. first, the "radio player" voice of the mind, will let you know by *escalating thoughts*
  2. for me, a deeper sign the heart will palpitate with an atrial fibrillation
  3. for me, a even deeper sign is a slight to moderate convulsive movement in the gut
In particular, I note these signs as progress towards "hotter" because the mind may be telling/yelling and possibly screaming at you to "stop". That is a good sign you're going in precisely the right direction, ie your attention and concentration are fixed on sensations and thoughts that are "hotter". Keep your concentration focused and when one *sensation and/or thought pair* begin to hit upon an even *hotter sensation or thought pair*, allow attention to go to the "hotter" one, in other words - allow attention to make a gentle switch to trade up. :-)


I am thinking about metta practice, where one through images and thoughts generates a feeling of loving kindness. This predisposes the person towards experiencing more of that feeling outside of meditation. How is your practice different? You say it has the opposite effect. My question probably sounds naive and I think I know what the answer may be, but the similarity between the two practices perplexes me.

Existing insight (seeing through content to context) in this can be helpful, for obvious reasons, but isn't necessary. I'll also note this can lead to insight. If you have good insight practice already, but seeing through content it isn't yet an instant reflex, then use practice to bring yourself to context first. Then allow yourself to get lost in the content. Yes, that's right. You have to let go and allow yourself to become what you behold (context becomes content again). If being context is a reflex, no worries as it'll co-pilot of its own accord. If being context (insight to see through content) isn't in the repertoire, no worries; essentially by simply holding attention towards the energetic center, the pocket of your consciousness that's giving you the anxiety can come to the surface - given enough time in concentration in the "hottest spot" found in the "hotter colder" game. And simply by holding concentration long enough, the center (aka "spiral" as you said) will flicker and fade like a candle at the end of its wick. With that fading, don't stop; keep concentration for a while (at least minutes) into the quiet. Content is silently dropping (attachment withering) leaving only context even if you can't see this for a while.


I got lost there. Is context the bare sensations? By content I assume you mean what the thoughts contain. My meditation experience is that as I get more concentrated the thoughts keep coming and going, but less frequently. Each time a thought appears, I know the content though. I can't recall ever experiencing a thought without knowing its content. It is through the content that I recognize that there is a thought, by realizing that my field of awareness now includes those other things than just bare sensations. It is not like a car that I can see from afar before seeing what is inside. I realize that this is off-topic, but I am explaining my level of understanding to possibly explain my confusion about the paragraph. I don't know what you mean by bringing oneself to context. I don't know what you mean by existing insight.

It is always best to do this when the anxiety is freshest, that is when it is naturally arising, but do this practice in private until you're confident you can handle it in more public places. If you can't get somewhere private, note/write down the thoughts arising around the sensation and use them for sitting. Tears, sobbing, and many other phenomenologies will occur. Just note them (don't resist them, but don't act on their content - this is not a good time to get up and tell someone off even if every fiber of your being says so...that's just the content talking and right now you're giving yourself to something not to act on, rather something to unfetter.)


Is it a good idea to imagine oneself public speaking in some place, before the event?

Finally, the clearest sign we realize the anxiety is truly gone, is usually when you begin to worry what will happen to you without the anxiety to 'shepherd/push' you (believe it or not). And this belies another phenom in this that to fully resolve one thing, such as a defense mechanism, can then reveal yet another wound it was covering. And in this sense, things can seem better having traversed a "layer" and then worse for a while as we dismantle ourselves.


One gets so laid back that it is hard to motivate oneself to do anything?

Dan, thanks for your post! I am asking because I care.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
4/26/13 10:55 AM as a reply to Chris Lanford.
Hey, I might not be able to add much to the convo, as I am not yet a Stream Enterer. But I did spend like 7 years in once a week therapy and have done a lot of emotional work and have worked with my emotions sincere starting vipassana.
Anyway, when anxiety arises for me reflecting on no-self helps. I think about the flesh/physical nature of the body and my organism. I think about which part of my body owns the anxiety (which makes the anxiety seem silly). We have so little control. And, it's all passing so quickly. Like, I'll reflect on what all this would look like after my death. Like, will I be upset about this when I am dead? (pretty unlikely, hahaha!!) I'll ask about my control level over the problem (usually minimal). I will think about the cyclical nature of things and all the arising and passing and that I am not in control and that I am part of the arising and passing of all things and that this anxiety is impersonal and just arising and passing on its own accord.
Over the past month there has been a particular situation in my life that caused much pain/anxiety/anger. When this would arise my heart would start beating very heavily even while in seated meditation. So, then, as Fitter Stoke suggested, I would look at the physical components/phenomenology, in this case the rapid/heavy heart beat. The looking at the heart beat and noting it would make the anxiety go away and would also serve as a means of hijacking my own obsessive thought patterns as a reminder to do vipassana.
Also, it's kinda cheesy, but I use the NLP technique of "reframing". As best as I can, when anxiety comes up, I think, "excellent, now I have a very interesting object to study and penetrate. What an opportunity!!!" Obviously this only works when you are not totally submerged in the anxiety.


When anxiety is high I do pacing and note while pacing. Somehow this takes up and occupies some of the space/energy that would otherwise feed the anxiety.

As to why I started practice. Certainly depression/anxiety/dissatisfaction has played a large role in my desire to practice. I don't want to carry the self and all the suffering. I want liberation.

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
4/28/13 5:23 PM as a reply to Chris Lanford.
I actually came into *this* accidentally. I was dealing with trauma and anxiety and found myself in the territory this website is dedicated to.

You asked:
Dark night?

It has taken me a bit to map the terms used on this website to my experience. Having noted that, conscious recognition of the A&P, et al, though insights came in a different order.


I will note that this is what worked for me and that it is not for everyone (it is likely not safe for everyone post A&P),

You asked:
Why is it not for everyone?

I'd offer it is not for everyone because some may be so confused as to their true nature that they might not be able to take this all the way, get confused, and stop having only delved deeper into their wounds, pockets of consciousness, and having aroused those feel them all the more. This is natural because those pockets are there for a reason - most often they are created to adapt our behavior by shaping our reality emotionally. Normally, when they are aroused it is because our minds have matched them as 'appropriate' with what is going on around us. They are there to express themselves (emotionally and not necessarily through action). When we arouse them on purpose, we should be prepared to allow them to express themselves all the way (through emotion not through action.) If we don't yet have the ability to be truly honest with ourself and seek to hold others responsible for how we feel, we may not be ready for this practice.



what I would do is literally do a reverse of "avoid the spiral of escalating thoughts/sensations". I head straight for "the spiral". If you remember the "hotter/colder" game we played as children, as variant of concentration practice, play hotter colder with the *escalating sensations*. Essentially as you keep working towards the "spiral" you are getting "hotter" and there are signs that will let you know you are getting to the right place
  1. first, the "radio player" voice of the mind, will let you know by *escalating thoughts*
  2. for me, a deeper sign the heart will palpitate with an atrial fibrillation
  3. for me, a even deeper sign is a slight to moderate convulsive movement in the gut
In particular, I note these signs as progress towards "hotter" because the mind may be telling/yelling and possibly screaming at you to "stop". That is a good sign you're going in precisely the right direction, ie your attention and concentration are fixed on sensations and thoughts that are "hotter". Keep your concentration focused and when one *sensation and/or thought pair* begin to hit upon an even *hotter sensation or thought pair*, allow attention to go to the "hotter" one, in other words - allow attention to make a gentle switch to trade up. :-)

You asked:
I am thinking about metta practice, where one through images and thoughts generates a feeling of loving kindness. This predisposes the person towards experiencing more of that feeling outside of meditation. How is your practice different? You say it has the opposite effect. My question probably sounds naive and I think I know what the answer may be, but the similarity between the two practices perplexes me.

Please note that I'm not a practitioner of metta practice and I never conceived of it in relation to metta practice.

So First, remember as Hokai would say, practice, effect and result are different things. Keeping it very pithy (and incomplete) here: The thing to know is that the practice of cultivating loving kindness in effect provides an opening (clarifying baseline Self) for natural acceptance. In the long term result can provide a self acceptance and with full self acceptance naturally comes acceptance of everything (we actually always only ever resist ourselves...even when we pin this resistance with great imagination and creativity on 'others'.)

So Second, what the practice I offered (above) is the opposite of is aversion. In a sense metta practice is making a bee line towards loving kindness (baseline Self). In a sense, the practice (above) is making a bee line towards the shadows which are what cloud loving kindness (baseline Self) to bring them into the light. Once they, shadows/pockets of consciousness, are fully expressed in this way and are seen/heard/felt, then they lose their 'stickiness' and no longer cloud true Self. If pockets are present and left to the shadows (you can tell because feel their distraction/attraction), the metta practice can literally practice bypass these as distractions. Even though metta does have a useful effect (per First paragraph immediately above).

So Third (and more on this in the next question), once you know the taste of Self as a Love (via Metta or first awakening) which has no resistance to whatever is (in effect an acceptance that brings true freedom to act or not act), then you can use that as a compass pointer and give yourself to your darkest shadows and allow shadows to come to the light (aka you) fully and unravel themselves/yourselves knowing who you really are (Love). In essence, it is a tremendous act of love to give yourself up willingly to your shadows of which bring anxiety, anger, et al

Existing insight (seeing through content to context) in this can be helpful, for obvious reasons, but isn't necessary. I'll also note this can lead to insight. If you have good insight practice already, but seeing through content it isn't yet an instant reflex, then use practice to bring yourself to context first. Then allow yourself to get lost in the content. Yes, that's right. You have to let go and allow yourself to become what you behold (context becomes content again). If being context is a reflex, no worries as it'll co-pilot of its own accord. If being context (insight to see through content) isn't in the repertoire, no worries; essentially by simply holding attention towards the energetic center, the pocket of your consciousness that's giving you the anxiety can come to the surface - given enough time in concentration in the "hottest spot" found in the "hotter colder" game. And simply by holding concentration long enough, the center (aka "spiral" as you said) will flicker and fade like a candle at the end of its wick. With that fading, don't stop; keep concentration for a while (at least minutes) into the quiet. Content is silently dropping (attachment withering) leaving only context even if you can't see this for a while.

You asked:
I got lost there. Is context the bare sensations? By content I assume you mean what the thoughts contain. My meditation experience is that as I get more concentrated the thoughts keep coming and going, but less frequently. Each time a thought appears, I know the content though. I can't recall ever experiencing a thought without knowing its content. It is through the content that I recognize that there is a thought, by realizing that my field of awareness now includes those other things than just bare sensations. It is not like a car that I can see from afar before seeing what is inside. I realize that this is off-topic, but I am explaining my level of understanding to possibly explain my confusion about the paragraph. I don't know what you mean by bringing oneself to context. I don't know what you mean by existing insight.


I'd offer a reference point based on your statements, context is the "field of awareness" and all content is shaped from it and taken in in different ways. The answer is in your question and metaphor, "It is not like a car that I can see from afar before seeing what is inside." Once you see what is inside the car, does the car disappear so you can't see it? OR are you just distracted/attracted so much by what's inside the car, that you pretty much can't get yourself to look at the car for habit of looking at the passengers? Note: recognition of car and passengers pretty much happens simultaneously as does your learned attraction. Now you know what's attracting you and distracting you from the car, go have another look and feel yourself give into your attraction for what's inside the car knowing it is a distraction. Once you've located (felt clearly) the attraction to look into the car you'll be on your way to seeing...just keep going that way.

It is always best to do this when the anxiety is freshest, that is when it is naturally arising, but do this practice in private until you're confident you can handle it in more public places. If you can't get somewhere private, note/write down the thoughts arising around the sensation and use them for sitting. Tears, sobbing, and many other phenomenologies will occur. Just note them (don't resist them, but don't act on their content - this is not a good time to get up and tell someone off even if every fiber of your being says so...that's just the content talking and right now you're giving yourself to something not to act on, rather something to unfetter.)

You asked:
Is it a good idea to imagine oneself public speaking in some place, before the event?

Depends on the person and what they're trying to achieve. Personally, I'd note thoughts pre-occupied on a future event as a sign of pocket of consciousness trying to help and I'd go into that shadow (allow that shadow to come to the light/surface) and play itself out as discussed. It might make the public speaking worse or better, but that's of secondary importance to me.


Finally, the clearest sign we realize the anxiety is truly gone, is usually when you begin to worry what will happen to you without the anxiety to 'shepherd/push' you (believe it or not). And this belies another phenom in this that to fully resolve one thing, such as a defense mechanism, can then reveal yet another wound it was covering. And in this sense, things can seem better having traversed a "layer" and then worse for a while as we dismantle ourselves.

One gets so laid back that it is hard to motivate oneself to do anything?

You wrote:
Dan, thanks for your post! I am asking because I care.


I understand. Ask anytime.

Dan

RE: Anxiety, Phobias, and Practice
Answer
4/28/13 4:53 PM as a reply to Jane Laurel Carrington.
I'm responding to my month-ago self to say that things are much better these days. Have to say that maybe some of this stuff just takes more time to shake out--pathways of the brain have to be rerouted a bit. It happens more quickly for some people than for others.