How to Apply Suspension
An exercise to reduce anxiety during the pandemic.
Posted Feb 11, 2021
In my previous post, I wrote about epoche or suspension of judgment as an exercise to reduce anxiety during this pandemic.
In these months, in fact, we have been obliged to spend more time inside with ourselves in a social and personal environment that may not have been kind and rewarding. The level of frustration toward our flaws and impatience for what’s next in our lives might have risen.
For this reason, I proposed an exercise that was meant to suspend our judgments and expectations of ourselves. After the post was published, clients and friends asked me — how do I do it, practically? I’m not into Buddhism or any form of meditation — what is this suspension that you speak of?
You do not need to be an expert in meditation or believe in Buddhism to apply this suspension. Below, I break down this practice into three simple and practical steps:
1. I imagine. I see. I feel. I sense.
First, you need to learn the difference between a judgment and everything else (imagination, feeling, hope, desire, expectation, and so on). You need to become aware of what is a judgment and when it arises in you.
To do so, you can choose a specific moment of your life that feels quite charged with confused emotions and you might want to reflect on it. Once you pick a moment and you are ready to observe it, I invite you to describe it in terms of “I imagine. I see. I feel. I sense.” No “I think, I believe, I claim” is allowed here.
You can practice this by yourself or with a partner. In either case, it is useful to pay attention to when the internal judge kicks in. If at any point you notice that a voice inside is judging you for feeling something inappropriate, just kindly invite that voice to leave the room.
In this phase, you need to allow yourself to feel all that you need to and open your imagination to see your world as wide as possible. Censoring yourself as inappropriate would not allow you to complete this first step successfully.
2. Am I safe here and now?
In this second moment, you ground yourself and your lived experience to your body as it stands in the present. You turn your attention to your organic physical body, and you try to see what is going on inside of you. For example, notice if there are tensions and how they got there.
This is the right moment for you to let your imagination freely go with what you sense in your body and associate images to these sensations. After this exercise, you can ask yourself if you feel safe in the space where you are sitting. If any sense of gratitude or compassion arises toward yourself, or others in that moment, just let it flow and take from it as much as you can get.
3. What part of my life needs suspension?
Once you emerge from this state, you can observe what just happened. In revisiting the first two steps, you might notice that essential feelings or emotions came up. Some of them feel good, some less.
You might want to accept both and acknowledge that part of you that was willing to talk to you. You might want to remember how it felt in your body without quickly jumping to any conclusions or trying to gain any deep, final meaning.
After that, you can ask yourself what part of your life might need suspension. What aspect of your everyday, lived experience feels constantly under the pressure of your judgment and expectations? You might break that lived experience into small pieces and exercise this simple epoche on each one of them in different moments during the week.
Benefits and Concluding Remarks
A good aspect of this exercise is that after experiencing it, you will be able to practice suspension when it’s needed quite automatically. Your body will tell you when it is worthwhile to suspend your judgment and just observe. It might be that beneficial effects arrive immediately afterward your first practice. Or it might be that if you’re carrying a heavy burden around your neck, you need to practice a little more often.
The beauty of this exercise is that it will become spontaneous and effortless with time. The practice will teach you how to avoid feeling overwhelmed and when it is good to switch from an undermining, unreflective attitude in which you behave in a way that might be a little too harsh or blind toward yourself and your needs, into a caring, reflecting self. This gained compassion will help release the anxiety that by definition (from Latin angus) chokes us in the unexpected and unwanted moments of our life.