In meditation, we often hear to let go. Let go of your thoughts. Don’t cling to anything. Everything changes. Everything is impermanent. Everything is transitory.
This is supposed to be reassuring — and if you’re going through a rough time, it often is. Who wouldn’t feel better when reminded that a breakup, a financial crisis, or a health issue won’t last forever?
But what about when things are good? What about when you’re happy with your relationship, health, financial situation, and life in general? If you’re genuinely happy, being reminded that everything is impermanent can bring you down a bit. It can also create some anxiety.
You can change that.
Impermanent doesn’t mean lost right now
If you feel anxiety at the thought of everything being transitory, it’s possible that you’re taking it too literally.
Consider this: My grandparents were married for nearly 70 years when my grandfather passed away almost three years ago. They got married directly out of high school (or maybe they were still seniors?), and lived for nearly seven decades, raising five children and watching seven grandchildren and twice as many great-grandchildren grow up. That sounds like a lovely image of forever, right?
But that was transitory. Upon my grandfather’s passing, the relationship they had ended. Depending upon your beliefs about souls, spirits and an afterlife, perhaps the relationship changed forms, or they will be reunited in another realm. But the relationship they had, a lifelong marriage, ended because of death. It was temporary, relegated to this world, to this life.
My grandparents could have spent their entire lives worrying about how one day their marriage would end with death. Or they could have done what they did and enjoyed every moment they had with their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and each other.
Impermanence doesn’t mean that something is going to disappear tomorrow. Acknowledging that something is transitory isn’t going to make it immediately go away. The things you love and enjoy aren’t like balloons — loosening your grip won’t result in it floating away, out of reach, never to be had again.
Acknowledging the impermanence of something means merely understanding that at some point they will change. This understanding creates a stronger appreciation for what you have right now.
If you struggle with that, it might be that you have some control issues.
You can’t control everything
Before you start fidgeting and denying having control issues, let me say that I’ve been there.
I’ve been the person who felt better being in control and thus tried to control everything. And I can assure you that attempting to control everything is just going to create even more anxiety than letting go ever could. On top of that, it’s also going to create more stress and create more significant problems between you and others.
The fact is you can’t control everything. You’re unable to control other people. You don’t have control over the outcome of a relationship. You can’t control the weather or traffic. The reality is that there is incredibly little that you can truly control.
I know that’s a scary thought — especially when all you want is to have control. Admitting that you can’t control much of anything can create even more anxiety and it can also make you want to latch on even harder and try to control what you think you can.
But I want to let you in on a little secret: that’s only going to make things worse.
You need to learn to let go.
Surrender and just let it happen
The thought of change can be scary to someone who likes to be in control. The idea of change that you can’t control — such as death or a divorce or breakup that the other person initiates — can be particularly scary.
But those are the situations in which it’s essential that you learn to give up control. Just surrender to it and let it happen.
If you try to control it, you will ratchet your anxiety, stress, and frustration up to unmanageable levels that will leave you exhausted and potentially affect your health, not to mention drive people away. And you still won’t be able to control the situation. It’s still going to happen. The harder you cling, the more out of control you’ll end up feeling, which will start you on a loop of increasing anxiety, stress, and frustration.
Instead, surrender control. Acknowledge that you can’t control it and go with what happens. It may not be what you want. It may not be what you need. It may be completely different than anything you ever imagined, and it may feel like it’s leading you in a direction you don’t want to go.
It doesn’t matter.
Even if it’s a direction you don’t want to go, it’s happening anyway. Flow with it. By flowing with it, you’ll be better able to make the most of it, even if it’s not what you wanted or needed. You’ll be able to reposition yourself to take advantage of the situation you’re in and grow as a person, rather than fighting for nonexistent control and feeling like a victim.
And avoiding that victim mentality will help ease anxiety.
Using meditation for surrender and anxiety
Meditation can be a huge help when it comes to learning to surrender as well as easing anxiety.
The practice of observing your thoughts without clinging or judging will help you learn to let go of other things in your life. Guided meditations with lots of imagery can also help with letting go while still allowing you to retain some control — the narrator of the meditation controls the length and general imagery, but you’ll keep some control over what you visualize.
Meditations specifically designed to help with decreasing anxiety can be helpful both as a daily practice to ease anxiety in general, as well as being used at the moment when you feel anxiety rising. Some people do find that when they begin meditating their anxiety increases initially. There are many possible reasons for this, including the type of meditation, how long and how often you’re meditating, and other things like becoming “too aware” or repressed emotions or memories coming to the surface.
If you find that meditation is making your anxiety worse, you may want to consider working with a meditation teacher. A teacher can help you determine whether you should change the kind of meditation you’re doing, change the frequency or duration, or make other changes to your practice. You might also consider meeting with a therapist, especially if you are dealing with repressed emotions or memories or have been diagnosed with anxiety.