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Anxiety and Zen Gardens

January 1, 2015 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Anxiety is a great obstacle, a jagged rock in the lives of tens of millions of human beings. Anxiety definitely isn't a state of being that most of us would describe as pleasant. It worms its way into our thoughts, tricking us into believing that there’s a lot to fear and to worry about, that we are ruining all sorts of things. Anxiety makes us feel sad, afraid, choked and crushed. It makes us feel miserable in countless ways, and because of that, we want it to vanish from our lives without a trace. But one way to deal with anxiety is to think of life like a Zen garden.

Anxiety in Our Lives

Oh, how wonderful it would be if we could point at it, shout “Be gone!” and have anxiety disappear forever. Unfortunately, that isn't even the stuff of fairy tales. (If it were, wouldn't Cinderella simply have commanded her step sisters, the carriage-returned-to-pumpkin, and all the other bad things to go away?)

Reducing anxiety to a minuscule size and eventually to nothingness, can absolutely happen. We can make it happen, and we don’t need fairy tale magic. There’s a great variety of anxiety grounding techniques that can be used to beat anxiety. Because anxiety is so insidiously stubborn, though, it does take time and patience to not only find techniques that work (everyone is different, so different things work for different people) but also for those methods to take effect.

What can be done to make anxiety more tolerable while we work to defeat it? Adopting a new perspective, one that acknowledges anxiety’s presence but doesn't fight it, one that doesn't fight it but doesn't surrender to it, can be helpful in preventing anxiety from controlling us while it’s still part of our lives.

Anxiety in Your Zen Garden

Thinking of anxiety as a rock in a Zen garden can help us calmly move around it while we work to make anxiety disappear.

To work around the anxiety within, think of yourself, your life, as a Zen garden. Zen gardens contain, at minimum, sand, rocks and a rake. Different philosophies assign varying symbolic meaning to Zen gardens. The sand is almost universally accepted as water, and the rake is used to create the effects of ripples.

My favorite interpretation of the rocks is one that views them as obstacles, things both inside of us and out, that block the flow of peace in our lives. In this interpretation, the rocks can stand for the anxiety that is blocking us from fully living our lives.

Being Present in Your Zen Garden Calms Anxiety

A person tending to a Zen garden does so gently. He doesn't dig furiously at the rocks. She doesn't try to heave them out. These approaches use precious energy and only leave the person tired and frustrated while more rocks lay strewn about the garden.

Instead, a Zen gardener uses the rake to make soft ripple patterns throughout the garden and around the rocks. You can approach your own figurative Zen garden in a similar way.

One of the keys to working with a Zen garden, especially for anxiety, is mindfulness. As the rake waves through the sand and curves around the rocks, be fully present in the moment. Think of the flow of water, peace and calm. Use this time to breathe, inhaling and exhaling deeply. Your focus will begin to shift away from anxiety.

Inevitably, you’ll encounter your rocks. Anxiety is present, just like all the rocks in a Zen garden. Tenderly swirl your rake around your anxiety rock. Picture the peaceful flow of water around it. Picture yourself flowing with the water, around the obstacles.

As you use various strategies and techniques to eradicate your anxiety, think of that anxiety as a rock in a Zen garden. It’s an obstacle, but water is more powerful. Create your own ripples and float around those obstacles. Just because anxiety is there doesn't mean you will get stuck in it.

You can also connect with Tanya J. Peterson on her website, Google+, Facebook,Twitter, Linkedin and Pinterest.

APA Reference
NCC, T. (2015, January 1). Anxiety and Zen Gardens, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2015/01/anxiety-and-zen-gardens



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Llama lady
says:
January, 1 2015 at 11:25 pm
Thank you for the zen garden thoughts.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 2 2015 at 10:09 am
Hello Llama lady,
Thank you for reading and commenting! The zen garden metaphor is one I've held in my own thoughts for quite some time, and I decided to go out on a limb and share it. :)

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