I remember waking up some mornings or perhaps during the night feeling the slow dread of anxiety move through my body, a fight/flight reaction, even before I had had time to think any lucid thoughts.
My mind would then go on a search to find and grasp a fear or a worry that matched the intensity of the feeling and this would escalate it. Sometimes it would be a worry about my work or family and I would ‘futurise’ the worry to worst case scenarios. What generally happened next was that a flood of adrenaline would flood my system and I would be awake with my heart pounding and my mind fixated on that scary thought. If this happened during the day it was relatively easy to distract myself with work or people but during the (oh so long) nights, this was much more difficult to do.
Some of you may relate to this scenario. All of this makes perfect sense, given the facts about human physiology and the survival instinct, deeply ingrained in our make-up. Humans have had to constantly adapt to changing seasons and circumstances and the stress that this causes is linked to the adrenaline like substances that are released into our bodies to give us that burst of energy needed for adaptation. The physiological reaction subsides as we find a new (temporary) equilibrium.
What happens, though, if we continually allow our minds to disturb our equilibrium enough to cause the stress reaction? The energy produced by the adrenaline is not used up in action and begins to damage our bodies. As well as that, unhelpful neural pathways in our brain are activated again and again perpetuating the pattern and entrenching us in a ‘rut’ where we remain stuck and our health begins to suffer. This is a cause of depression around the world. Many do not realise that their depression may be anxiety-based.
Is there a way, then that we can take charge of our mind and have executive control over what we think? Is it possible to climb out of that rut and walk in a spacious place of freedom? The answer to both questions is, “Yes”.
The following metaphor may be of help:
You are riding your bicycle along a country road and turning a corner you slip sideways on the muddy road and into a ditch. Because you are still on your bike you try to ride it out. The faster you pedal the more deeply entrenched you get. You don’t want to let go of your bike because it has been familiar transport.<
So you keep trying. You are getting more and more covered in mud. From down in there in the ditch you can’t see anyone or anything to help you. You feel reactive, angry and miserable.
Eventually you decide to let go of your bike and you climb out and stand in a spacious meadow. The sun is shining and from there you can see for miles. You can look across to the mud on the road and at the ditch without being in there. Your new understanding of why you fell into the ditch, from the new vantage point, is helpful. <
You can see many resources. A pond in which to wash off the mud, a farmhouse where there may be someone to help you to retrieve the bicycle, a blackberry bush with some refreshing blackberries to sustain you.<
This is a lot like mindfulness. Fostering the ability to give intentional attention to what you choose, rather than staying stuck in the rut of recursive patterns. Mindfulness takes us out of that rut and into a spacious observational place, a place of non-judgmental acceptance of ‘what is’, in the now moment. It involves consciously letting go of old patterns and choosing to be in the non-judgmental observational space. It is in that space of non-striving that resources become obvious and solutions to previously stuck situations, can be found.
For more information about mindfulness and our courses coming up – check out our courses section.