By SYLVIA BOORSTEIN
Everyone is anxious these days, with good cause. The world is imperiled. Workers are quitting jobs at a higher than usual rate and wondering, “Is this what I am supposed to be doing with my life?” Colleagues are reporting that they feel “Zoomed out” by the end of the day, and all the psychotherapists I know are reporting waitlists for people wanting to talk to them. Even before the pandemic, when last I was teaching in-person retreats, I was noticing that many people had listed SSRIs (anxiety and depression drugs) on their registration sheets.
And, of course, people already prone to anxiety are worrying more. I’m one of those people. Worrying—“fretting” as it is called in classical Buddhist texts—is my principal reaction to stress. When that happens, I note to myself, “Worrying is arising,” and, “This is excess energy in the mind, and it will pass,” and that’s helpful. Or I try to ease the mind’s tension by reminding myself,
“This is my mind’s particular habit of catastrophizing. Let’s wait and see what happens.”
Another technique is thinking, “This is just a story. If I take a break and breathe deeply for a few minutes, I’ll remember I’ve done this dance a million times and it is always exhausting.” Lately, I’ve been saying to myself, “Sweetheart, you’re hurting yourself again with these stories.” This last is the closest response to compassion, and so I think it is progress, because more and more my approach to the dharma is evolving toward kindness.
An instruction about anxiety I often see these days, on T-shirts and coffee cups, recalls a British response to World War II:
“Keep Calm and Carry On.” That would be the Buddhist response, indeed the best human response, to these times. I would just add: “Keep Calm and Carry On, and Be Kind.”
A LOVING-KINDNESS MEDITATION FOR TIMES OF ANXIETY
Take time during the day to stop for a few minutes. Breathe. (My smartwatch tells me, “Stop and breathe” several times a day.) While you are stopping and breathing, take that time to think of the people you love and wish that they are well, wherever they are. Look around at all the people in your view. Each one of them has a mind full of people they know and love and the hopes they hold for them, just like you. So much of our anxiety is about ourselves, and when your mind refocuses itself from “me and my troubles” to “everyone else and their troubles,” it feels better. It feels connected, alive, and supported by that connection.
Keywords; kindness, meditation, mindfulness