When we find ourselves in challenging and troubling times we may find ourselves lost and adrift. Stress and anxiety manifests itself in not only physical symptoms that are very visceral but also in mental manifestations too. Thoughts become an anchor from physical symptoms of stress and we try to use them to find stability in choppy waters. The mind however can change from a secure platform of reason and logic to become delusional in nature. You may not be dragged into believing that you are God, but the flow of thoughts can find weaknesses and buried constructs of self that begin to appear real and in some cases become very scary indeed.
Tara Brach, meditation teacher and counsellor, has often been quoted as saying:
“thoughts are real but not true”
And it’s very easy to agree with that perspective especially when you have been in the grip of stress and anxiety.
Thoughts are part of you. Part of what makes you, ‘YOU’. However, they are not the whole of you are. They are only a part of the whole of our humanity and while we may think it forms quite a powerful element of your makeup, Cogito ergo sum – ‘I think therefore I am’, they are not the whole of what is required for us to live fully and certainly can’t be relied upon.
When anxiety is at its highest, out of the shadow comes a deep sense of fear. We become scared of almost anything. In many cases it can be rational fears, ones that are based in reasonable constructs. However, in extreme cases it can be irrational, ‘sticky’ and very debilitating; from head to toe we respond viscerally and with alert awareness. From the depths of your mind comes all forms of ‘monstrous’ manifestations. Doubt and fear comes forth with tooth and claw bared. Fear of long established relationships, fear of situations, fear of yourself, doubt of emotional connections, doubt of your rational mind. The list goes on and on.
The complex nature of anxiety and stress is no more acute than when being with others. Others most likely will not see what you see and as a result a couple of things may manifest from your person to person interactions.
Some may know that the behaviour and thoughts that you are experiencing are not really and the true nature of you. They may be intuitive enough to see beyond the fear, depression or unusual behaviour being exhibited because they can see the suffering and know that this is not your Own True Nature (OTN). This may not make the person in the throes of anxiety feel better initially but it is a good platform to stand upon. It is a solid foundation to healing. It is friendship and is a place where your OTN can be mirrored back safely.
However, there may be another example of interaction that proves more challenging. The one where the person observing the behaviour sees what is being presented as odd and unusual. This is where the skill of mindful awareness and personal self-reflection comes in. The sufferer needs to believe in themselves and their OTN.
This is more challenging as the ‘thoughts’ felt and feelings experienced are sticky and can draw you deep into self-reflection and negative critiquing esp. if you don’t go deep enough below the surface of the anxiety to root out the root cause of the trigger.
This takes time, practice and patience. It also takes an intrinsic belief in your OTN and the knowledge that it is always there, even though it may be buried deep.
You need the same sense of foundation that you feel when you stand on another’s support. The only difference being that it is between you, your ego and your OTN. You have to start the healing journey by standing somewhere sound and solid and ground zero is your core. Your OTN.
It will take time and patience to work through a lot of thoughts, especially those that you think are real but are really not true. The key tool In your armoury throughout all of this is:
Mindful awareness, often referred to as simply ‘mindfulness’, is non-judgemental awareness of the present moment. This is done without layering of thoughts feelings etc. and it is a tool used to bring quiet space to a chaotic world. It can also be used to bring about a space where you can safely find your OTN and to look closely at your fear and doubt within a space devoid of real danger.
With mindfulness, I like to call it mindful awareness, you can observe what is and at the core of both you and your fear and observe safely what is your reaction to any given situation.
One pitfall to be aware of is judgement can arise at any time. This is an extra layer that you will need to be attuned to, but not become attached to when it appears. This reaction is extra to the process and it part of the ‘stickiness’ of fear and doubt. If you can work through this and make way towards your OTN you can then look at the unpacked fear and place it safely to one side. It will never go, but it will be isolated and you can be aware of it and ‘comfortable’ with its presence.
The key to mindfulness is the ‘non-judgemental’ element and this is perhaps the most difficult if you have spent some time triggered by fear and doubt. The association to a sense of ego-self can lead you to be judgemental to who you think you are. Mindfulness can help you break through that layer.
This core teaching in Buddhism and the theories of humanistic psychology has been a major key to unlocking addictive and repetitive behaviour patterns based around fear for centuries.
That is not to say however that fear and doubt doesn’t still occur and that reactions will come up. We are human after all. However, it will enable you to respond to life in a balanced way and a way that has more equilibrium.
Mindfulness and mindful awareness may not be for everyone. Indeed, there are a 1001 other techniques for self-reflection and behaviour change, however I have found this one the gentlest, subtle and accessible and has enabled contact to my OTN.