Friday, December 11, 2009

A Cure for Anxiety - Part 2

Remember, anxiety is the hook but enlightenment is the goal. If we deal with the symptoms of anxiety by simply practicing certain techniques or by taking a pill, we're dealing with the problem on a purely physical level.

If we go to a psychologist or psychiatrist, we begin to include the mind in the solution.

But there's also a third level. That's the level of the spirit or soul. If we don't tap into this aspect of our being, we lack the leverage necessary to make lasting change. It's like trying to lift something that you're standing on.

Let me try to show you what I mean with a little experiment. At the end of this paragraph, stop reading and listen to the voice in your head. Almost everyone has an internal monologue going in their head all the time. Take a moment and listen to it.

Did you hear it? Let's deal with the "yes" answer first.

If "you" heard the "voice," then the "voice" wasn't "you." The "you" in this scenario was the listener. The "voice" was something other than the "you." Get it?

So on the one hand we have this stream of consciousness, as it has been called, that constantly feeds you advice, makes plans, argues, complains, evaluates, judges, creates dramatic movies with you as the star. Let's call this voice the ego.

And then there's something else in there listening to that voice. Let's call that The Real You.

So where are we going with this? The goal is to get you to quit identifying yourself as the voice or ego, and for you to start identifying yourself with the listener or The Real You. This separation is the beginning of awareness. The Real You is your soul or spirit, the timeless eternal you.

For those of you who didn't hear it, there are two possible reasons why.

First, you've already achieved a level of enlightenment whereby you are capable of turning off that voice.

Or second, you're completely identified with that voice. This means that there is no separation between you and your ego. In which case you're completely unconscious, spiritually speaking.

I highly doubt that you would still be reading this blog if EITHER of these two options were true.

Unconsciousness, this lack of separation between you and your ego, is where anxiety comes from. That voice in the head, the voice of the ego, has taken on a life of its own and tells us that dreadful things will probably take place in the future. That's worry. That's anxiety.

So now working backwards we've moved from the physical level (see Part 1) to the level of mind.

I first became aware of this voice in my head many years ago when I was going through a painful break up. At that point I figured out that if I was going to get through this, I had to watch this voice at all times and the moment it thought about her I would stop it and make it think of something - anything - else.

I was like Austin Powers: "Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day! Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day!" (By the way, if Austin was cryogenically frozen throughout the 1980s, how could he have known about Margaret Thatcher? . . . But I digress.)

I would control my mind by latching on to any other topic. That way, little by little time would pass and I could get on with life.

This actually worked for more than one painful break-up, but it was a coping mechanism, not a solution, and it got harder and harder over time to employ.

Good news, though, there is a solution and that's to shut that voice down completely.

It seems like that would be more difficult than just thinking of something else, but it isn't. The other thoughts continue to give energy and momentum (and validity) to the ego and soon it comes right back to the topic you were trying to avoid.

Just as important, it's the present moment that holds the key that will end your suffering and the other thoughts take you away from present-moment awareness just as much.

So how do you shut the voice down? Through simple awareness of it. Become the "watcher" of your mind. Listen to what it says. Don't try to stop it. Just listen to it.

As you focus your attention on that stream of mental verbiage, you begin to dis-identify from it. It will become more and more foreign to you. This will weaken its power to control your behavior.

After some time, bring the verbiage to a stop, mid-sentence if you have to. At first, you'll only be able to stop it for a second or two. But the more you do it, the longer the moments uncluttered by this voice will become. Five seconds. Thirty seconds. A minute.

No voice, no anxiety. It's just that simple.

No matter how busy you are, take every opportunity you can - whenever you think of it - to stop the voice and enjoy a moment of peace away from it. Do this and your life will begin to change for the better.

This stream of consciousness is mind. Your identification with it creates this semi-autonomous entity we are calling ego. As you dis-identify from your mind, you diminish the ego. As you continue on this path, the ego goes away. This is enlightenment.

There is one previously-mentioned caveat to all this. Sometimes thought patterns become so engrained through long-standing repetition that they seem to skip over consciousness and affect the body directly. These sub-conscious thoughts will affect your behavior and create negative (painful) energy fields in your body.

Focus your attention on the negative energy these sub-conscious thoughts are releasing into your body. As you do, the meaning behind the negative energy - the negative thoughts - will eventually arise to your attention. And as soon as that happens, it will no longer have power over you.

Tolle calls this the pain-body. We'll talk more about the pain-body later - it deserves its own post.

To be clear, never take it upon yourself to go off prescribed medication outside the supervision of a healthcare provider. There are many, many people who suffer from anxiety to a far greater extent than I ever have. Drugs and therapy can and have been life-savers for a lot of people.

If you're on anti-anxiety medication, if you're in therapy and you're interested in giving these ideas a try, here's what I recommend you do.
  1. Use the space those tools (i.e. medication and therapy) provide to learn and prepare yourself.
  2. Read The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose (Oprah's Book Club, Selection 61),by Eckhart Tolle.
  3. Discuss your plan with your healthcare/mental healthcare provider and ask for their support in your efforts.

Photo credit: Aapproach

I hope this helps. Please post comments. They will be helpful for others.

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