Last week I was teaching on the MBLC teaching skills retreat. This causes a lot of our participants to go into anxiety meltdown as they have to be assessed while teaching session extracts from the MBLC 8 week course. It seems to trigger a lot of memories of being tested at school. Also, when teaching mindfulness we are turning up authentically as ourselves and so it can feel as if it is ‘me’ that is being assessed. It is a vulnerable and tender process and we go carefully with it. Thankfully, meditation for anxiety helps.
Time and again participants spoke about how their embodied mindfulness practice helped them through their anxiety. It is the ‘thinking about’ what might go wrong that elaborates and fans the flames of anxiety. Several times I heard people say ‘What is the worst that can go wrong’ – which would be failing the assessment and repeating the retreat next year (for free – for those who need to re-sit). People were worried that their voice would fail them and they wouldn’t be able to speak – a few people had the idea to just run away and leave the retreat – but thankfully no-one did!
Several people spoke about how their mindfulness meditation helped them through the retreat. They were able to see the thinking that was making the anxiety worse and let the thinking be and move their attention into the body to directly feel the constellation of sensations that make up a feeling that the mind labels as anxiety. The sensations are never as bad as we ‘think’ they are going to be and taking our focus out of the thoughts and into the sensations takes our energy out of the thinking and can help the anxiety feel manageable and no longer overwhelming. This is the power of mindfulness to help with anxiety.
People also used a focus on slow deep breathing and self soothing gestures to give their bodies a message that all was well. This calms the nervous system and also the mind. This is the power of compassion to help with anxiety.
People spoke about being curious about their levels of anxiety, rather than of fighting it, which puts energy into it and often makes it worse. As always, I was impressed by the courage and commitment of these beginning mindfulness teachers to share what has transformed their lives for the better with others. I am happy to report that all of them were assessed as ready to teach. More good people going out into the world ready and prepared to share compassion based mindfulness – what could be better?
As facilitators of this delicate process we aim to hold this tender process with compassion and normalise the anxiety. We encourage participants to embrace the mess that all human beings are with compassion – to become the compassionate mess – a realistic approach given that the human condition is not one of perfection (thankfully).
After the retreat I came to Blackpool to celebrate my sister Helen’s birthday and last night we went out for a nice pizza. Helen and I came back early, to bring Helen’s 3 year old son back to the hotel and I caught up on some well needed sleep. My 18 year old daughter stayed out with her friend and I recognised in that moment that I could spend the rest of the night wracked with anxiety until she arrived home and with that came a shiver of anxious feelings. On seeing that with an embodied realisation, and the futility of that, having no control over whether they would be safe or not, I was able to decide in that moment to let it go. That is the power of insight on anxiety – although it has taken me many years of dedicated mindfulness, compassion and insight practice in relation to anxiety to get here.
If you struggle with anxiety, as I did, then why not come and train with us and learn to be with, respond compassionately to and finally to see through anxiety? Here is a video of our training pathway. There is no need to continue to suffer with anxiety – we all have the choice to train our minds.