It is no secret that anxiety is on the rise in our culture. Turn to almost any media form, outlet or medical report and you will find reference to rising rates of mental health problems, diagnoses, and symptoms of anxiety rampant all around us. We live in a fast-paced, instant-gratification, competitive, and anxiety-producing world. That is simply our reality.
But there is another reality that doesn’t often show up in the news. Prayer. Meditation. Mindfulness. The wise leaders of almost every religious worldview - from Benedictine monks to Buddhist teachers – speak of such practices as integral to living fully. That practice could be yoga or Qigong, sacred text reading or quiet meditation, mindful eating or walking a labyrinth, contemplation or guided breathing. Such practices are ancient, deep, calming, and foster inner peace. They are antithetical to the anxiety that is boiling up in and around us. These practices build inner strength, resilience and stability. I honestly believe such practices have a fundamental role in our wholeness as humans.
The problem for many of us (myself included) is that such practices are … well … practices. In order to reap the physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and intellectual benefits - they must be practiced. The world spinning madly around us doesn’t necessarily value practice in and of itself. We value solutions. We appreciate progress and action. We respect people who get outcomes. We want an expert to instantly “fix” what is wrong with us. We don’t want to practice things. We’re far too busy for that.
Many of us grew up with the idiom “practice makes perfect” – but you will never perfectly meditate or flawlessly nail a yoga pose and then be done with it forever. I have never prayed a perfect prayer or perfectly executed walking the labyrinth. When it comes to practices of mindfulness, prayer, and meditation – perfection does not exist. Practice is about showing up and being open. It is about settling into the quiet, listening, or movement and letting go of that crazy-making world. Meditation and prayer are about focusing on something bigger than yourself and your problems. Mindfulness is about fully experiencing life in spite of the busy. Maybe even in the midst of the busy. It is practicing something that you’ll never ever perfect and making it a priority anyway.
Our wholeness is finding itself in competition with the trajectory of our world these days. What if our challenge is to stop competing, slow down and practice something that feeds our soul and has no tangible outcome? Perhaps, spending more time sitting on the shore of the lake, focusing on slowing your breathing each afternoon, or simply being in nature is just what you need (the Faith Lutheran Memorial Prayer Garden is a wonderful place). Or maybe it’s time to sign up for that yoga class you’ve been too scared to try, or pick up a mindfulness based stress reduction book, or visit a local monastery or meditation center to glean wisdom and experience from dedicated practitioners.
Anxiety is a medical diagnosis and may require a doctor’s care. Don’t hesitate to have a conversation with your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety. But whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety, it is likely that you are negatively affected by the anxious tone of our world. And for that, I prescribe three deep breaths and a charge to practice something that slows you down – especially when you’re far too busy for that.