Anxiousness and mindfulness

The fourth of the five hindrances is anxiousness or restlessness. It is paired with its energetic opposite, apathy and laziness. The word anxiousness is chosen deliberately to distinguish it from anxiety, which is a treatable mental or emotional condition. As with depression, if anxiety interferes with basic functioning in life, it’s time to seek a professional diagnosis and address the problem through that channel.

At the same time, being anxious is a mental state that we have all had at least a taste of. It can be related to fear about something, even something vague, in the future; or it might, paradoxically, be a way we self-sooth. My wise mother once said, “Worry is a kind of prayer I understand”, and she was not unique in that observation. Worrying might make us feel that we’re doing something when we can’t do anything practical to avert or respond to a problem. However, it is not helpful to maintaining mindfulness, so we need to look into it to see if there’s a remedy.

Anxiousness is an energetic imbalance that can obstruct both concentration and mindfulness and therefore make insight impossible. It is closely associated with “unwise attention”, and the way we can both avoid anxiousness, and remedy it when it appears, is through “wise attention”, also called “appropriate attention” (Pali: manasikāra).

Attention by itself is a neutral activity, it can be colored with ignorance or colored with wisdom. Our task is to try to move from delusion (ignorance) towards wisdom by discerning what in our attention draws us towards freedom and what holds us back with clinging to unskillful thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness can also be in the service of wholesome or unwholesome ends, and therein lies the distinction between wise and unwise attention.

From SN 46:53, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Six things are conducive to the abandonment of restlessness and remorse:
1. Knowledge of the Buddhist scriptures;
2. Asking questions about them;
3. Familiarity with the Vinaya (for laypeople this refers to the 5 precepts);
4. Association with those mature in age and experience, who possess dignity, restraint and calm;
5. Noble friendship;
6. Suitable conversation.

So, when we’re agitated and unsure of what to do or how to react, we could consider this list of aids – studying what the Buddha taught, inquiring about the teachings and following up, keeping the precepts (harmlessness, generosity, sensual restraint, truthfulness, and sobriety), seeking out wise elders to consult with, and conversation with friends who are also on the path of the Buddha’s teachings. If we turn our actions of body, speech and mind in this direction, our energy will be refocused in wholesome ways.

These, however, are medium to long-term remedies and we want a quick fix! If we bring our attention to our breathing, we can gain some control, not only over any agitation we feel, but also over our attention. Breathing deliberately and deeply, even for a short while, can return us to a stable and open mind state.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Causes and results, Mindfulness, Precepts, Wisdom and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Anxiousness and mindfulness

  1. beforewisdomapikeyaccount says:

    Would it be possible to include the Pali name of that sutta?
    TB uses a slightly different numbering system than other translators.
    His “46:53” might be a number or two before or after what he has at SN:46:53.
    It becomes much easier to find his sutta and alternative translations having the Pali name of the sutta.
    Have a good weekend!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Lynn. I’ve been receiving your reflections for a few years now and I really enjoy them. This is the first time I’ve commented, but I wanted to let you know that this passive receiver greatly appreciates your weekly writings. Sathu!

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