How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

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88Alien88
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How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

Post by 88Alien88 » Sun Sep 03, 2017 2:10 pm

I came across meditation a year ago and I have been practising non regularly for a while and noticed big benefits In improving my awareness and staying grounded in the present moment which helped me a lot with my social anxiety.
Now I want to fully utilize meditation and mindfulness as a way of living and I want to start with the practice of vipassana. Unfortunately, no centers are available in my country so I have to self learn it at home. So far I've been able to meditate for 5 hours a day as follows
2 in the morning
1 mid day
2 at night
What I want to ask , what is it about vipassana that would help me break from my anxious thought pattern? Is it the sharpened awareness or the un learning of aversion and craving reactions and how to maximise the benefits of the practise for the purpose of defeating social anxiety?

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bodom
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Re: How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

Post by bodom » Sun Sep 03, 2017 4:04 pm

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

Social Anxiety

September10 2005


In one of Ajaan Lee's last Dhamma talks he compared life to taking a boat across an ocean. The problem out on the ocean is that there's no fresh water. For most of us meditation is like stopping in a port, picking up some fresh water, and putting it in the boat. Then we go out to sea and discover that we've run out of water, so we have to go back to port. As a result we don't get very far. If we're not careful, the winds will blow us away from the coast, and we'll find ourselves without any water at all.

In other words, when we meditate we pick up a good sense of ease, a sense of inner refreshment. It's like stocking up on water. But then we take it out and we pour the water out our eyes and ears, all over the place. So we have to come back, meditate some more, get some more water — back and forth like this. We never really stock up on enough water to take us across the ocean. So an important lesson we have to learn is how not to pour the water out. What this means is learning how to maintain your center with the breath, inside the body, even when you go outside and deal with other people. This is one of the big issues in any meditator's life.

Ajaan Lee has another passage where he compares the meditation to making the mind one and then turning it into zero. Now, when you have zeros, there are two things you can do with them. You can put them in front of numbers — in which case they have no meaning at all, you don't read them, they don't count — or else you put them after other numbers, in which case 1 turns into 10, and then 100, then 1,000, and then 10,000. If the zeros get put after, you've got lots of issues, but if the zeros get put first, no matter how many zeros you have, they don't add anything, don't burden the mind at all.

It's the same way with the mind: You make it zero and then you put the zeros first. Then when you deal with other people, what they say doesn't count. It's interesting that Ajaan Lee focuses on what other people say as one of the tests for a mind that's really at peace. The Buddha makes a similar point in one of the Dhammapada verses. "If, when other people say harsh things to you and you don't reverberate — like a cracked gong — that's a sign that you've attained true peace of mind." This might seem strange. Why does the test lie in how you react to what other people say?

The mind is very sensitive to this issue. We learn very early in our lives that our happiness is going to depend on how other people treat us. As children, we're surrounded by people a lot more powerful than we are, so there's always a sense of fear built into our relationships to the people around us. We become sensitive to other people's moods, sensitive to what they might do, what they might say. As a result, our center of gravity is placed outside because we're afraid of them, and we try to put up a wall outside ourselves to protect ourselves from them.

What this means is that our psychic center of gravity gets moved outside the body. If you've ever taken any martial arts classes, you know that if your center of gravity is outside your body you're in bad shape. You're in a weak position.

Now the Buddha doesn't say to ignore other people and just be very selfish. He says there's a different way to approach the whole issue of happiness. In other words, you find a source for happiness that doesn't take anything away from anyone else, so you don't have to be afraid of other people. When you're not afraid of them, you find that you can actually be more compassionate to them. So developing and maintaining this center inside is not a selfish thing. The Buddha's not teaching you to be insensitive. He's just saying to put yourself in a stronger position and to trust that you're stronger by not trying to go outside and fix up people's moods and all the other things that we think we can do with other people when we're dealing with them. Just stay inside and have a sense of confidence that you're strong inside. After all, your source of happiness lies inside. Because it's not taking anything away from anybody else, you don't have to be afraid of them.

Especially when you can get your awareness to fill the whole body, when you get the breath flowing smoothly throughout the whole body: This smooth flow of energy builds up a kind of force field. An image in the Canon is that the meditator who's able to fill the body with awareness is like a door made out of solid wood. If you were to take a ball of string and throw it at the door, it wouldn't make any dent in the door at all. The mind filled with awareness, with the breath energy flowing smoothly, is the same sort of thing. It's solid. It resists outside influences.

But when your awareness doesn't fill the body like this, the Buddha says it's like a ball of wet clay into which somebody throws a stone. The stone makes a big dent in the clay. In other words, you're in a weak position, and you intuitively know you're in a weak position. Other people can invade your inner space. So you scramble around and try to build up all sorts of defenses. Because so much energy gets spent in the defenses, and the energy is outside the body, it knocks you off balance. You use up the water of your meditation, the refreshment of your meditation, very quickly this way.

The trick, as Ajaan Lee says, is to have a little distillery in the boat so that you can take the salt water and put it into the distillery, to turn it into fresh water. Then everywhere you go you've got fresh water. In other words, no matter where you go, you're right here: centered in the body, with your awareness filling the body. You're not leaving the body unprotected and you're not using up all your energy in those false outside defenses. You're creating a sense of energy here in the body, a sense of refreshment, and it's protecting you as well. This way you can travel around the world because there's salt water everywhere. If you've got the skill, you can turn it into fresh water — as much fresh water as you want.

So as you leave meditation, it's important that you watch to see: How does the mind move? How does it go flowing out your eyes and ears into the space outside your body? If you catch it and bring it back in, how is it going to complain? There's going to be a sense of fear, or a sense of uncertainty about trying to stay inside. In the beginning you may feel unprotected. Don't listen to those voices. Those are voices that took over your mind when you were a little child and didn't know anything. That was the best you could do at that time, but now you've got more skills, better skills, more understanding.

Learn how to reason with those voices: "Here's a good solid place, a good safe place, a secure place to be — right here inside the body — and you're operating from a position of strength." And just that much is not only a gift to yourself, but also the people around you. They'll sense the difference as well, and it makes your interaction with them a lot easier.

So learn to have some trust for this sense of being inside the body. The awareness that fills the body, the breath energy that fills the body, can protect you in a lot of ways. It can provide the nourishment and the refreshment you need at all times. At the same time, it develops a momentum in the practice. If you keep on creating all the water you need, when you have more than enough, you can share it with the people around you. Your sense of what it means to interact with people will change — will be a lot less fearful — and your sense of what it means to be refreshed will grow deeper and stronger.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... tml#social

:namaste:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With mindfulness immersed in the body
well established, restrained
with regard to the six media of contact,
always centered, the monk
can know Unbinding for himself.

- Ud 3.5


"Dont send the mind outside. Watch the mind right at the mind."

- Ajahn Dune Atulo

ieee23
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Re: How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

Post by ieee23 » Sun Sep 03, 2017 4:51 pm

The mind is very sensitive to this issue. We learn very early in our lives that our happiness is going to depend on how other people treat us. As children, we're surrounded by people a lot more powerful than we are, so there's always a sense of fear built into our relationships to the people around us.
I do not agree with Thanisarro Bhikkhu. I was not afraid of people as a child. Children in general are not afraid of people, they are taught to be afraid, sometimes, through the actions of some adults.

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bodom
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Re: How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

Post by bodom » Sun Sep 03, 2017 5:02 pm

ieee23 wrote:
The mind is very sensitive to this issue. We learn very early in our lives that our happiness is going to depend on how other people treat us. As children, we're surrounded by people a lot more powerful than we are, so there's always a sense of fear built into our relationships to the people around us.
I do not agree with Thanisarro Bhikkhu. I was not afraid of people as a child. Children in general are not afraid of people, they are taught to be afraid, sometimes, through the actions of some adults.
As that is your personal experience you do not have too agree. I have 3 young children and have seen first-hand that they will run to me and there Mom when strangers try to interact with them or family that they are not familiar with.

I have not "taught" them to be afraid of people and the concept of stranger does not exist for my youngest but he automatically seeks the comfort of me and his mom when surrounded by people he does not know. This seems to be pretty common in young children in general in my experience.

:namaste:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With mindfulness immersed in the body
well established, restrained
with regard to the six media of contact,
always centered, the monk
can know Unbinding for himself.

- Ud 3.5


"Dont send the mind outside. Watch the mind right at the mind."

- Ajahn Dune Atulo

paul
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Re: How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

Post by paul » Sun Sep 03, 2017 9:23 pm

“Now the Buddha doesn't say to ignore other people and just be very selfish. He says there's a different way to approach the whole issue of happiness. In other words, you find a source for happiness that doesn't take anything away from anyone else, so you don't have to be afraid of other people. When you're not afraid of them, you find that you can actually be more compassionate to them. So developing and maintaining this center inside is not a selfish thing. “—Thanissaro Bikkhu.

By way of explanation, in developing the centre within, although it involves insight (vipassana), Thanissaro’s valid approach is focussed on cultivating the pleasurable sensations associated with breath meditation, and prioritises jhana:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fi-DUwT_WmU

88Alien88
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Re: How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

Post by 88Alien88 » Mon Sep 04, 2017 8:28 am

bodom wrote:
Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

Social Anxiety

September10 2005




So as you leave meditation, it's important that you watch to see: How does the mind move? How does it go flowing out your eyes and ears into the space outside your body? If you catch it and bring it back in, how is it going to complain? There's going to be a sense of fear, or a sense of uncertainty about trying to stay inside. In the beginning you may feel unprotected. Don't listen to those voices. Those are voices that took over your mind when you were a little child and didn't know anything. That was the best you could do at that time, but now you've got more skills, better skills, more understanding.



:namaste:
I can so much relate to how sensitive my mind is to other people's feelings and opinions, which I think is the basis of social anxiety. Literally to the point, I would lose my presence occupied with thoughts of self doubt and critistisim.

From my understanding, meditation is what fills you with good vibrant energy and mindfulness is what maintain it for you. My question, can you give me a concrete example on how to maintain my inner center of gravity whilst in a stressful situation for example, having a conversation with a woman? Is it simple mindfully taking a breath focusing on sensations in my nostrils?

ToVincent
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Re: How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

Post by ToVincent » Mon Sep 04, 2017 1:49 pm

88Alien88 wrote:defeating social anxiety?
Hi,
The following has to do with anxiety in general - I don't know how far it can help "defeat social anxiety":

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Physiologically speaking, the diaphragm-psoas connection is supposed to have much to do with anxiety.
https://justpaste.it/1avfb

The diaphragm is the central muscle of breathing.
Working the diaphragm-psoas connection helps balance the breathing.

Here are some asanas that work out the psoas-diaphragm connection.
https://justpaste.it/14e5j

Utthita trikonasana, utthita parsvakonasana, and virabhadrasana are particulary good at working out the psoas >> anxiety.

Utthita trikonasana, utthita parsvakonasana, virabhadrasana and salamba sarvangasana are also good at developing physical energy.

Uttanasana is particulary good for depressive mood.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Buddhistically speaking, this is how anxiety might be defined and done away with:

We are "attacked" by the external fields of experience (āyatanāni - aka the external sense bases), says the Buddha.
See how in SN 35.238

We are just made to "be felt" SN 12.37, says the Buddha.

Also, as you can see in SN 35.238, (in the paragraph, just above the red underlined extract,) our internal āyatānani are void, empty, says the Buddha.

So what the Buddha says is not to let the external come in (as in SN 35.245 ) - and replace that nasty feeling of anxiety, by a good one. Something that comes from our own citta SN 47.8.

Once more, mindfulness is, before all, to be aware of these external khandhas, that "attack" us. Then to cultivate the internal (mindfulness of body - of breath).

That is the Buddhist way.

Metta

P.S.
By the way, this does apply to any kind of wretched, unworthy feelings, as well - (depression, whatever...).

Other interesting suttas, that might help understand the process:
SN 22.47.
SN 12.39.
AN 11.17.
We are all possessed - more or less.
------
And what, bhikkhu, is inward rottenness? Here someone is immoral, one of evil character, of impure and suspect behaviour, secretive in his acts, no ascetic though claiming to be one, not a celibate though claiming to be one, inwardly rotten, corrupt, depraved. This is called inward rottenness.”
SN 35.241
------
Just as a chunk of salt, cast in water, loses its form and keeps only its taste; so does one who deals with the deathless loses himself in that reality.
------
https://justpaste.it/j5o4

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BasementBuddhist
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Re: How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

Post by BasementBuddhist » Mon Sep 04, 2017 9:44 pm

It can't. You can meditate until your legs fall off and never be free of your social anxiety. It's what you do with that meditation that determines its usefulness. Meditation is just an action you are doing. Never forget that we use meditation to learn things. It is what you do with it that matters. This is something that seems really stupid and basic, but don't get so wrapped up that you forget it.

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Re: How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

Post by JohnK » Tue Sep 05, 2017 5:22 pm

88Alien88 wrote:...what is it about vipassana that would help me break from my anxious thought pattern?
My take on it: As simple as it might appear to be to "watch the breath" (or some other aspect of experience), it sets up a radically different way of relating to our "thought pattern." Ordinarily, we are completely identified with our thoughts, operating from inside them so-to-speak, taking them for granted as "us." In meditation, thoughts can be seen as just an aspect of experience that arises and passes (but that certainly have the ability to get us lost on a train of thought -- back to being "inside' them). Returning to the meditation object over and over again trains the mind to know when it is lost and to be able to return to the present, that is, out in the world, too.
So, that's "in general." You also asked about in the moment in social interaction. Over time you get better at more quickly recognizing that you are getting lost in the thought pattern, and so you can do something sooner to help you get off that train of thought -- like a mindful breath. Of course, it doesn't always work so easily! Having some ability to see, maybe even with some humor, "There I go again" can help get unstuck from the habitual pattern.
An aside: 5 hours per day for someone relatively new to the practice and w/o a teacher seems like it might be excessive (I don't know, but it seemed like a lot). Maybe others can comment on that.
Best of luck on the path.
"Why is it, Master Kaccana, that ascetics fight with ascetics?"
"It is, brahmin, because of attachment to views, adherence to views, fixation on views, addiction to views, obsession with views, holding firmly to views that ascetics fight with ascetics" (AN 2: iv, 6, abridged).
Kindly eyes, not verbal daggers.

Phena
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Re: How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

Post by Phena » Wed Sep 06, 2017 1:49 am

You might set yourself up for disappointment if you have the belief that "vipassana" will be the cure-all for all your anxieties. I would focus on practicing the eight-fold path as a whole, not just the meditation aspect. Balancing the path factors I've found to be very important. Practicing 5 hours a day may eventually bring up some unexpected issues, and then perhaps some cognitive dissonance.

A good grounding in the Dhamma will eventually make you more resilient, but it is a long-term proposition.

suaimhneas
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Re: How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

Post by suaimhneas » Sat Sep 09, 2017 1:42 pm

88Alien88 wrote:I came across meditation a year ago and I have been practising non regularly for a while and noticed big benefits In improving my awareness and staying grounded in the present moment which helped me a lot with my social anxiety.
Now I want to fully utilize meditation and mindfulness as a way of living and I want to start with the practice of vipassana. Unfortunately, no centers are available in my country so I have to self learn it at home. So far I've been able to meditate for 5 hours a day as follows
2 in the morning
1 mid day
2 at night
What I want to ask , what is it about vipassana that would help me break from my anxious thought pattern? Is it the sharpened awareness or the un learning of aversion and craving reactions and how to maximise the benefits of the practise for the purpose of defeating social anxiety?
Metta (loving-kindness) meditation might be worth trying in this regard. I've found that most of the nervousness/anxiety I previously had regards public speaking gradually evaporated over the years (essentially gone at this stage), which I'd mostly put down to meditation of this general type. In my own experience, nervousness/anxiety in such situations often seems to ultimately arise from underlying negative perceptions/expectations about the audience or even oneself and one's expected performance (not always that obvious either). If there's an underlying (perhaps subconscious) expectation of hostility, then some degree of fear is likely. May get into a negative feedback cycle too, the anxiety makes one worry about one's likely performance, leading to more worries about a hostile audience, foster negative/perhaps unkind perceptions of them (round and round) etc. With a good solid base of metta, that cycle may not even get started at all (plus metta to oneself means one is more forgiving and gentler with oneself), or a blast of metta may knock one of the cycle entirely. That said, a touch of the heart racing/nervousness/adrenaline in such situations is inevitable and probably not all bad (keeps one on one's toes), but it's not good when it's too severe. I'm not sure if all that would transfer over to general social anxiety, but might be worth considering.

Mindfulness can be used in combination with this approach too (this doesn't have to be confined to the meditation). I've found regular daily life practice very useful also (not just for metta). A common practice with me has been to set regular short intervals during the day, e.g. 1 or 2 minutes at the start of each hour (or even every half hour at times) of the day (circumstances permitting) to do a little mini-practice session. For example, one could briefly survey the contents of one's mind, see if there are any unskillful thoughts there, and do a little brief metta (or other appropriate) practice. Over a long period, that can gradually shift the habitual patterns of one's mind bit by bit in a more positive/skillful direction.

Bhante Gunaratana's new book on metta meditation looks like a nice intro to the topic: https://www.wisdompubs.org/book/loving- ... in-english. I must admit I haven't read this yet, but have read most of his other works and thought they were useful.

andrew73249
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Re: How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

Post by andrew73249 » Sun Oct 08, 2017 7:55 pm

This is a very good question and one that I imagine is of great interest to the many of us in the West (such as myself) who came to Buddhism through modern psychotherapies that draw heavily on mindfulness, acceptance, and other Buddhist concepts. My understanding is similar to that of @JohnK above and is basically what I think Thanissaro Bhikku is saying in his Dhamma talk on the subject: as mindfulness becomes more of an ingrained habit through practice, you find yourself (even out in the "real world") getting caught up in the thoughts and emotions that constitute social anxiety less and less. I believe it is critical to actively cultivate this though, because it is indeed very easy to completely forget what you practice in meditation the instant you get up from the cushion.

In fact, the difficulty in bringing mindfulness out of formal practice and into real-life situations is precisely the reason that I started searching for something beyond psychotherapy, and which is how I came to Buddhism. That is why I find the OP's situation interesting: he or she is someone who may be having the same difficulty despite coming from Buddhism itself, rather than therapy. I think this illustrates very nicely Jack Kornfield's position on the relation between psychotherapy and meditation: both can be skillful practices, and they are arguably both types of meditation, but neither are sufficient to fully develop spiritually and to live with freedom and courage. Loving-kindness, attention to body, heart, and mind, compassion, ethical behavior, generosity, sangha; all of these are important factors in Buddhist practice that reinforce and act in concert with mindfulness to help in overcoming social anxiety, and which are largely or completely neglected in therapy or pure mindfulness meditation alone. In addition to everything else, I think that specialized therapies and meditations that go beyond mindfulness and that focus intensively on the issues of identity, fear, and avoidance that underlie social anxiety can also be very skillful.
Last edited by andrew73249 on Mon Oct 09, 2017 3:56 am, edited 2 times in total.

Caodemarte
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Re: How can vipassana help me break free from my social anxiety

Post by Caodemarte » Sun Oct 08, 2017 8:49 pm

88Alien88 wrote:
Sun Sep 03, 2017 2:10 pm
Unfortunately, no centers are available in my country
What country do you live in if I may ask? There are often centers and groups available, either locally or by travel (even by internet ocassinoally) , that are not so well known, but may be quite good. You might want to look at http://www.buddhanet.info/wbd/ for a partial listing.

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