First, check to see whether there is a feeling of anxiety currently being experienced. It's helpful if the sense of anxiety is already present, but it can also be conjured up by thinking thoughts that have triggered anxiety in the past. Once you notice that anxiety is present, I invite you to investigate what it feels like. How do you know anxiety is present? What does anxiety feel like? Try to describe the experience of anxiety and how it is recognized. Typically, there is a sense of tightness in the body, often accompanied by a quickening heartbeat. In the case of my friend, he equated the feeling with a sense of stage fright one might encounter when being asked to give a presentation to a large audience.
Once you become familiar with the experience of anxiety, it's time to explore it. First, we drop the label “anxiety” and remove it from the equation. Then, we direct attention toward the sensations present in the body. By removing the label “anxiety” and examining it experientially, it creates an impartial space for the experience. A good question to ask at this point is, “Is this anxiety, or just the movement of energy?” If it can be clearly seen as the movement of energy and not anxiety, then a new relationship to the sensation begins to form.
In the example of anxiety, I like to use the metaphor of a roller coaster. If you can remember what it's like to be on the uphill climb on a roller coaster, getting closer to the top, you might have experienced a similar energetic movement in the body with tension and a quickening heart rate. Anticipation of the unknown is the root. One could just as easily label this experience as “excitement.” Once you crest the top of the roller coaster and plummet downwards, there is a rush of energy as the anticipation gives way and transforms into exhilaration as you realize you are safe. If there is a sense of trust that you are safe, then surrender gives way to delight. This analogy might not be helpful if you are not a fan of roller coasters but seeing this energetic sensation we call anxiety in a different light can enable us to see that it is similar in nature to excitement. It is a movement of energy, plain and simple. By not giving it a label like “fear” or “anxiety” it does not feed into a story that perpetuates its presence, nor does it create a problem out of the simple movement of energy.
So, when this energy arises, simply asking the question, "Is this anxiety or is this the movement of energy?" can transform our perception of it. In the case of my friend, asking this question caused the sensation to dissipate, but he noticed that it quickly rose again. I brought up the roller coaster metaphor again and indicated that roller coasters usually have multiple peaks and valleys rather than just one, and that asking this question each time it arises may gradually weaken the intensity and frequency of the movement of energy. Simply by seeing it impartially can diminish the energy’s ability to fuel stressful thoughts. He really liked this approach because it was remarkably simple and only involved asking one question.
I invite you to use the same question for whatever types of emotions might be recurring themes in your experience. The investigation can deepen but it's typically helpful to clear a pathway, so to speak, before diving deeper into the roots of suffering. Feel free to let me know how it goes.