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The best of PANIC!: A Buddhist perspective on coping with anxiety.

Posted Oct 10 2012 1:20pm

The Venerable Thubten Chodron wrote a great piece entitled "Dealing with Anxiety" , which posits that anxiety is caused by our natural inclination towards self-centeredness:
If somebody else's car gets dented we say, "Well, that's too bad," and forget about it. But if our car gets dented, we talk about it and complain about it for a long time. If a colleague is criticized, it doesn't bother us. But if we receive even a tiny bit of negative feedback, we become angry, hurt or depressed.

Why is this? We can see that anxiety is very intricately related to self-centeredness. The bigger this idea that "I am the most important one in the universe and everything that happens to me is so crucial," is, the more anxious we are going to be. My own anxious mind is a very interesting phenomena. Last year, I did a retreat by myself for four weeks, so I had a nice long time to spend with my own anxious mind and know it very well. My guess is that it's similar to yours. My anxious mind picks out something that happened in my life -- it does not make a difference what it is. Then I spin it around in my mind, thinking, "Oh, what if this happens? What if that happens? Why did this person do this to me? How come this happened to me?" and on and on. My mind could spend hours philosophizing, psychologizing and worrying about this one thing. It seemed like nothing else in the world was important but my particular melodrama.

When we are in the middle of worry and anxiety regarding something, that thing appears to us to be incredibly important. It's as if our mind doesn't have a choice -- it has to think about this thing because it's of monumental significance. But I noticed in my retreat that my mind would get anxious about something different every meditation session. Maybe it was just looking for variety! It's too boring to just have one thing to be anxious about! While I was worrying about one thing, it seemed like it was the most important one in the whole world and the other ones weren't as important. That is until the next session arrived, and another anxiety became the most important one and everything else was not so bad. I began to realize it isn't the thing I am worrying about that is the difficulty. It is my own mind that is looking for something to worry about. It doesn't really matter what the problem is. If I'm habituated with anxiety, I'll find a problem to worry about. If I can't find one, then I'll invent one or cause one. One means to coping with anxiety is to adopt a perspective that goes beyond just yourself: By meditating on the kindness of others, we will see that we have actually been the recipients of an incredible amount of kindness and love from others. In doing this meditation, first think about the kindness of your friends and relatives, all the different things that they have done for you or given you. Start with the people who took care of you when you were an infant. When you see parents taking care of their kids, think, "Somebody took care of me that way," and "Somebody gave me loving attention and took care of me like that." If nobody had given us that kind of attention and care, we wouldn't be alive today...

...Think about the incredible kindness we received from those who taught us to speak. I visited a friend and her two-year-old child who was learning to speak. I sat there, watching as my friend repeated things over and over again just so her child could learn to speak. To think that other people did that for us! We take our ability to speak for granted, but when we think about it, we see that other people spent a lot of time teaching us how to speak, make sentences, and pronounce words. That is a tremendous amount of kindness we have received from others, isn't it? Where would we be if no one taught us how to talk? We did not learn by ourselves. Other people taught us. Everything we learned throughout childhood and everything we keep learning as adults -- every new thing that comes into our lives and enriches us -- we receive due to the kindness of others. All of our knowledge and each of our talents exist because others taught us and helped us to develop them. It may or may not help you achieve enlightenment, but this sure seems like worthwhile advice.

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