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Letting Go of Anxiety

I’m coming to understand the role anxiety plays in my life. When I was pretty new to the organization, I’d sometimes go to a session after a particularly bad day at work. Like as not, the practice would feel clumsy. But by the end of the session, I’d notice that I was much less anxious. The tension must have been leaching out of me as the session was going on, but without me noticing as it was happening.

In the early days, my Leader in Training talked to us about Master Moy’s teachings, but despite her efforts I had very little concept of them. I see now that my understanding was limited in some obvious ways. Sure, the session is great for stress relief, but I didn’t really think about applying the principles outside of that. And I was forever assessing how well I was doing the practice.

The next stage was seeing how my anxiety dropped when I went to retreats. But that too was a story of substantial anxiety followed by big relief. And I was doubly concerned with how well I was doing the practice.

Now I recognize that anxiety has frequently been present- albeit to a smaller degree. And that it isolates me from other people. Even when the level of anxiety is modest, that lack of connection has a substantial impact on me and on the people around me.

Sometimes I bring anxiety on myself, and by acting differently in these situations I can reduce it little by little. Recently I needed to set up a discussion with a few people. It wasn’t supposed to happen for several days, so there wasn’t a pressing need to draw up a list of topics and send an invitation. In the past, I probably would have put it off- for any number of reasons- and would have figured, in the absence of obvious consequences, that waiting didn’t cost anything.

On this occasion, I gave myself a nudge to go ahead and send the topics and the invitation as a courtesy to the others. Right away, I noticed a feeling of relaxation. This tells me that in the past, when I had time to do a task but put it off, there has been an “anxiety cost”.

How is it that I’m only learning this now after so many years in the organization? During the pandemic there’s less clamor, so it’s easier to notice subtle things. And when people have talked about anxiety in the Saturday morning zoom sessions, that’s been very helpful- making me realize that just about everyone deals with anxiety; helping me understand that I need to work on it steadily and thereby reduce anxiety little by little, rather than expecting to conquer anxiety once and for all. For weeks I was thinking maybe the experience I cited with the meeting agenda was too trivial to share. But the Saturday morning discussions have also given me the sense that this is how it works: find a way to be 1% better, day after day.

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