Specializing in treating anxiety and anxiety disorders has been spiritually enlightening to me. I did not expect that. Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book, Full Catastrophe Living, says that pain + resistance = suffering. In other words, we all have pain that causes us suffering, but add all of our resistance to that pain and we greatly increase our suffering. For anxiety sufferers, their thoughts about anxiety greatly increase their experience of suffering with anxiety. Those thoughts are the resistance to it. “I shouldn’t feel so anxious!”, “No one else is uncomfortable here”, “I’m having a heart attack!”, “Everyone is watching me sweat”….. For the anxious soul, the racing heart and shallow breath are a small problem made much worse when accompanied by the committee of critical and alarming voices inside.
In using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for anxiety treatment, the “A” is acceptance of the full range of one’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In other words, to relinquish the inner battle and get more OK with how you may tend to react to things. There was a ready connection for me to an important spiritual task, which is being able to come to the table spiritually without so much internal criticism. I call this “As Is” spirituality. I have found with many believers, and certainly those from my tradition, that people are so hard on themselves internally that they won’t come to God in any real way. It is as if they are waiting to clean up their act first, then approach once they are squeaky clean. The beginning point and the end goal are confused in this thinking. In Christianity, isn’t dependence on Jesus for transformation the whole point anyway?
The remedy is similar. “As Is” Spirituality and “As Is” Anxiety living are all about people just being where they are in the messed up state they are in and learning a little self-compassion. Coming to the table with all of it and believing that there is reception on the other end is key. Treatment for anxiety, then, can be framed as a spiritual task that involves self-compassion and learning to tolerate oneself! “As Is” spirituality! How are you doing in the process of learning to tolerate yourself? If we can’t get our heads around that, then how do we learn a new relationship with our anxiety? And how do we ever begin an authentic relationship with God?
Stay tuned next week for more on self-compassion.