Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gratitude as medicine for an anxious mind

Recently a new patient who suffers with severe anxiety told me she usually awakens each morning feeling great. But within a few seconds that good feeling triggers a wave of anxious thoughts predicting the loss of the good feeling. I let her know that normally the depressed/anxious people I work with tell me they wake up feeling depressed and anxious. How fortunate she is to awaken feeling great. She experiences her mind in its natural state: alive and joyful. After a moment of shock, she said, “No other therapist has ever said that to me...  You mean my mind is naturally at peace?” I replied, “Yes. The key is to recognize how the mind is and intentionally avert the arising of the anxious mental habit narration you seem to have fallen into whenever you notice feeling good.”

Together we decided what was missing was an intentional gratitude for the good feeling. I asked her to go home and practice each morning, upon awakening, turning her attention to how the body was receiving the experience of feeling good. What sensations or overall qualities were present when she awoke feeling good? Then to intentionally generate gratitude for the experience.  I suggested she also notice her emotional state, it’s quality, and then generate gratitude for that experience; right there, right then, without fixation on its continuation. And when she was ready to get up and start her day.

At her next session she reported, “It worked and I even found myself spontaneously at different times during the day generating gratitude for all kinds of things in my life. Really mundane stuff. I seemed to have less worrying about getting anxious and instead spent more time in what I was doing, how I actually was feeling. A lot of the time I felt sort of neutral actually, but even that was a relief.”

You too can experience the liberation from the tyranny of the narrative mind: that which is the direct expression of our penchant for clinging to the continuation of pleasant experience and aversion to losing unpleasant experience. Gratitude practice for the ordinary is a powerful medicine to avert the suffering we bring upon ourselves in moments when we narrate disaster or impending catastrophe instead of opening to and resting in the joy of actual experience; even when actual experience is not necessarily pleasant. Try it and see for yourself!

I look forward to your comments and experiences.
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