Can we make friends with our anxiety? Is this having confidence in our meditation practice?
A student writes:
I have been trying to understand the different levels of confidence. I experience a lot of anxiety and yet I am able to accept that the anxiety is a part of the experience.
You are right to recognise the importance of accepting that.
Although the anxiety is a form of fear, I would not be able to experience courage if I was confident from the start. Is confidence acknowledging anxiety and seeing it as a travelling companion? I am finding it difficult to separate the two as they seem to be on the same spectrum of experience.
This is a very interesting question. It is true that if you feel no fear or anxiety, there is no sense of courage or confidence in the sense of finding the strength you need to rise above all those feelings.
So I guess simply being without fear or anxiety is self-existent or spontaneous courage or confidence, which doesn’t feel like anything in particular – it is just your natural way of being.
That way of being has countless qualities in the same kind of way – compassion, love, responsiveness, ‘communicativeness’, the list could go on and on. So you do not have to keep casting around for some special feeling to call confidence. As your question suggests, its nature is more evident in its absence than its presence.
You are right that for us confidence would consist of acknowledging our fear and anxiety and turning towards them rather than panicking and trying to run away from our feeling, pretending it’s not there or desperately trying to change it into something else that we think we should be feeling.
Yes, to see it as a travelling companion is a nice description of turning towards it. You kind of don’t mind it being there, you do not react to it. That way you come to understand and appreciate its nature.
Sometimes anxiety is more of a messenger than a problem. When danger approaches or when there is some kind of uncertainty about the boundary of a mandala*, emotions start to run high and there is a good reason for this. It alerts us to take action.
So the confidence is not in the ‘not feeling anxiety’ but in being able to respond to its message appropriately. In order to do that we need confidence and if we think of what the quality is that we need at those times, we are getting close to intuiting what confidence is.
Lama Shenpen Hookham
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