I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 10+ years ago. I've been in treatment for many years... battling the mood swings and anxiety that accompany this disease. I've been focusing on Buddhist psychology and the practice of mindfulness... in an attempt to soften these mood symptoms and lead a fuller, richer life. My therapist and I have been having an exchange about the benefits of mindfulness for the treatment of anxiety. These are my thoughts and questions on the subject...
The Ordinary Moment
“Ultimately it is upon your vulnerability that you depend.”
- Rainer Maria Rilke
To lead from a position of openness is to be undefended.
At times such vulnerability can be freeing, because we stop wrestling with our personal anxiety, resentment, and fear and simply expose ourselves fully to our world.
Yet such vulnerability can be terrifying, since we can’t rely on familiar postures, thoughts or emotions for comfort and reassurance.
When we practice mindfulness, we are cultivating a deliberate and purposeful vulnerability – a consciousness undefended.
When we are truly mindful, we are patient, honest and non-judgmental. We have trust in ourselves, and in our intuition. We do not strive for a purpose. We are simply being -- centered in the present moment -- promoting acceptance and expanding awareness.
Mindfulness can be a core skill in the treatment of anxiety. With practice, one can experience a flow of this emotional state without clinging to it, or pushing it away. By letting go of our control of the emotionally dysregulated experience, one can restructure automatic, ingrained patterns of thought.
In high anxiety states, thinking and judgment are impaired. There is a frightening disconnect between perception and reality. Bodily sensations are often misinterpreted or catastrophized.
Panic may be created subconsciously before the panic thought occurs – leaving us in a sudden and unexpected episode of intense fear. Ongoing repetition of this panic experience can lead to the paralyzing fear of the fear itself.
How does one simply notice successive and repetitive thoughts of fear through mindfulness? How does one use mindfulness when panic sets in unexpectedly? If anxiety is perceived as a state which is uncontrollable or unavoidable, how can being mindful work?
The obstacle, which can be overcome, lies in practice, willingness, openness and choice. Perfection is not possible, but this is not the purpose. We can experience our emotions mindfully, reducing emotional reactivity. It is detached self-observation without reaction.
What about perception versus reality?
In an anxious or depressed state, our perceptions of reality can be skewed. We may feel shame, fueled by secrecy, silence and judgment. It may seem, may be, impossible to practice mindfulness in such moments. However, they are only moments. When grounded, we can redirect our attention back to the present, begin the process of transforming the mind.
With practice, we may be able to have an inner dialogue, that we are aware of our irrational thoughts. We can let them pass with the moment. We may learn to ground ourselves through mindfulness. We make progress.
In a state of anxiety, how does one reduce vulnerability to destructive emotional reactions, while increasing vulnerability, or undefended consciousness?
Perhaps through practice when one is not in a state of anxiety. Practice can happen anywhere at anytime. A new path can be forged in our minds, making it easier to access at times of panic.
We have the capacity to slow down and begin to reveal our true nature. Anxiety planted deep inside can grow to the surface of the mind, allowing us to face it and embrace it non-judgmentally.
This is simple, but not easy. Practice and external support are absolute keys. We can make the choice to be mindful. To practice gratitude, experience life fully as it unfolds. To honor the ordinary.