Meditating With Anxiety

Diana Winston
March 18, 2020

When my daughter is upset, anxious, or angry, my job as a parent is to hold her in a loving presence. I don’t have to fix her emotion, give her advice, tell her not to be sad, or take the pain away. My job is simply be there for her.

The same is often true in meditation—except for myself. Many days, I have sat down to meditate and been overtaken by an emotion. Anxiety, for instance, hits me hard in my gut. It may feel quite strong—so strong that I can barely meditate. I’d rather do anything else than meditate. And I have been known to call it a day and read a book or check email instead of face the emotion.

Yet experiencing emotions is a normal part of meditating. In fact, as you meditate more, emotions often surface more, as if they are plants longing to grow toward the light—emerging in the face of your own loving presence. Our job is to recognize the fact that the grief or fear, pain or anger, or any other emotion, is arising and is the truth of the moment. With positive intentions as a baseline, we can trust the healing that comes as we shine the light of awareness on it. We can let these things that need to be healed surface and move through us, as we hold these processes in awareness and kindness.

This kindness doesn’t force healing to happen; it allows it to occur. When we speak to a therapist or trusted friend, finally able to get something off our chest as they fully listen to us with compassion, we experience a healing effect. Similarly in meditation, our own nonjudgmental, loving, open, and aware mind meets the strong emotion and offers it the safety to integrate and potentially resolve.

When anxiety surfaces during my meditation, I often put my hand on my chest lovingly. I let myself sense the anxiety as it emerges organically. Sometimes I use other practices—like giving lovingkindness to myself or saying the simple, yet incredibly useful phrases “It’s okay” and “You will get through this.” I let the anxiety emerge in a field of loving awareness, trusting that it needs to come forward, trusting that I am up for the task of allowing it to do so.

If strong, difficult emotions arise during your meditation sessions, there is nothing wrong. They are a part of you that can reveal themselves? in the light of awareness. Of course, if an emotion arises in meditation that feels stronger than you can handle, you should seek the appropriate therapeutic or spiritual support. But the emotions arising isn’t a sign that you’re doing something wrong; it’s a sign you’re doing something right. And wise.

Diana Winston is the Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center and the author of several books including her new book, The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering your Natural Awareness.

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