Today I read a wonderful post by Marguerite Manteau-Rao at her blog MindDeep about the nature of anxiety. She quoted and linked to an interview on NPR with teacher Sylvia Boorstein. This really resonated with me:
Actually, the Buddha said we have one of five genetic fallback glitches when we're challenged. He said some people fret, some people get angry, some people lose heart and all their energy goes and they don't know what to do with themselves, some people think, "Uh-oh, it's me. I didn't do things right. It's always my fault. I messed things up." And some people need to be sensually soothed. They think, "Where's a donut shop? Where's the pizza?" People have different tendencies. It was very, very helpful for me as an adult to learn that because it completely comes without a judgment. I don't have to say I am a chronic fretter. I could say, you know, when I'm challenged, fretting arises in my mind and it's not a moral flaw. It's very good for people who have a short fuse to be able to think, "You know, I have this unusual neurological glitch.
I tell it to people that my glitch is that "when in doubt, worry." It came with the equipment. I'm also short and I have brown eyes. If I could see that in the same neutral, it just came with the equipment, then I don't have to feel bad about it, but I can work with it wisely. That's really the important part, when we see as adults what it is that our fallback glitch is. You can say, "Uh-oh." And I think, in a certain way, that's a sign of wisdom when a person begins to be able to delineate this is what happens to me under tension.”
I’m a master fretter. I own it. The interesting thing for me is that I don’t always know when I’m fretting and I don’t generally talk about what is vexing me. My anxiety comes out in a habit I have had since I was a child – I bite my cuticles (or what is left of them.) It is such an unconscious behavior that most of time, I’m not even aware that I am doing it until my partner (invariably) says, “Stop eating your fingers!” I always thought this was just an annoying habit until a doctor friend pointed out years ago that it was related to anxiety and I was incredulous. I was incredulous because I didn’t feel anxious. I tried putting awful tasting stuff on my nails as a way to deter the behavior. That just meant I had an awful taste in my mouth most of the time, because I didn’t know I was doing it. I would bet that most of my friends wouldn’t describe me as an anxious person. But that’s a testament to how good I’ve become at masking it.
Learning to sit with silence and in the moment has allowed me to connect with that feeling of anxiety. It has given me the chance to be more mindful about what I do in response to anxiety even when I don’t feel anxious. Slowly but surely I am learning to ‘work with it wisely.’