Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Awareness: Looking Anxiety in the Face

In the practice of meditation one of the main "goals"--if we can call it a goal--is to learn to maintain an increasing sense of awareness.  The little secret is that awareness (reality) is always there.  We just aren't always aware that we are aware of it.  Instead, we are distracted by things like anxiety, fear, anger, and many other things, such as thoughts that float around obstructing our view of awareness.  It is said that in meditation you eventually become aware of reality rather than it being something you are striving for.  In other words, the more you meditate and perfect your awareness of reality, the more it appears to you.

When it comes to anxiety, we have to work at recognizing that it is like an object in the sky that catches our attention and begins to distract us from seeing things as they really are.  We can think of reality as the sky and when we look up into that sky, sometimes there are things that are "in" that sky that catch our attention, and we see these things just the way we might see clouds in the sky, and if you are like me, you can look at clouds and begin to get a little distracted by them.  That one looks like a dragon and maybe that one looks like the unfolding of a tornado, and maybe another looks like it could be heavy with rain.  Pretty soon... all you can see is the clouds (anxiety) and not reality (the sky) itself.

So with anxiety (as with many other of life's unnecessary distractions) we need to see these things for what they really are, and this should be done with as little to no judgment as is possible.  In other words, if you so happen to actually "notice" that you are anxious, try to notice without all the judgment that can follow, such as "what is wrong with me?", or "I should be better at this and not be so anxious." 

The way we get better and better at being aware is through meditative practice, and that can be done no matter if we are in seated meditation, walking meditation, moving meditation, or any activity at all  really.  For instance, try this little exercise: As you read these words that are a part of this paragraph, try to notice each and every time you see the letter "e".  Just read along, and then each time you see the letter "e", just notice it briefly.  So here you are, reading this paragraph, and suddenly the entire paragraph becomes something much more prominent before you.  Every word is now a central focus as you pay particular attention to catching each and every "e".  And we can do the same thing in everyday life if we just add in practices that help us learn to stay more present.

In her life's work, Charlotte Joko Beck worked to help people notice these things in their everyday life which were escaping notice due to distraction.  She wrote a book, Everyday Zen, in which she simplifies the entire Zen meditation process by clarifying that though it's not easy to accomplish, the main idea behind meditation and present-moment practices, is to become "present" in "every moment".

Before we end, take the time to meditate on the wonderful photo image presented with this blog entry.  It was created by Jeremy Gromoski and if you just come into the present long enough, you will notice something very interesting about what you see.  Some things can look very real, when they are not.  Just like our anxiety can.  But when we look anxiety directly in the face, most often we will find that it's an illusion created by our brain to convince us that some situation is life-threateningly dangerous, when it is not.

It's very important that we practice seeing things as they a really are.  The sky is always there, and yes, the clouds float in and out.  They shape-shift.  Appear and disappear.  But reality is always there, waiting for us to notice it.

Thanks to Jeremy Gromoski for his excellent photo image, Illusion.