The Ultimate AnswerJan 15, 2021
A few weeks ago, before Christmas, I had the pleasure of working with a lovely gentleman who had been suffering with anxiety for most of his adult life.
For the most part he had been able to function throughout, holding down a successful career and raising a family. However, it was very clear that anxiety was a still big thing for him. He worried about everything and his worrying mind would spin up any time he had to go outside or do anything out of the ordinary.
Being honest, I know what this is like. As the current trajectory of our daily lives seems to fluctuate and remain uncertain in lots of ways, and many people are finding themselves in a cycle of seeking answers:
- What should I be doing?
- What if X, Y or Z scary scenario happens?
- How do I navigate the uncertainty with work / jobs / finances etc.?
It's happened to me too over the last few months, and I think it's important to say that all of us on some level go through this. It's part of being human and no matter our understanding, you can expect it to happen when the world changes. As I see it, this occurs because our minds like to conceptualise and fixate. They also seem to like routine. They like to make up stories about how life is and how it should be. When the world changes form, which inevitably it will, the mind's ideas and routines become upset and temporarily rattled.
What we make of this experience determines how much we suffer. If we see it clearly for what it is, it becomes temporary, transient and eventually settles. If we get caught up in it, then it can linger, accelerate and take over.
Prior to working with me, my client had done quite a lot of work to help with this. He had used many of the tools and techniques that are often prescribed to help people in this situation. It had helped to a degree, but it was clear that he was still 'trying' quite hard not to be anxious, and on some level the application of tools and techniques had become another burden for him to think about and do something with.
My client had learned about the Three Principles and the extent of his insight was that he saw that his anxiety was 'just thought', but it did not seem to have materially helped him much to realise this. There was a clue as to why when I first spoke to him, when he referred to asking me how to reduce his anxiety to 'useful' levels. That was an alarm bell for me as it suggested that no matter how much he might want to be rid of his experience of anxiety, it would be very hard to reduce it if it seemed to be useful to him.
I realised that I needed to really chip away at this understanding and get him puzzled about whether there was actually any usefulness, at all, to anxiety. To coin a metaphor, it was like his anxiety was a boulder being supported horizontally on a number of vertical pillars, like the image above of Stonehenge. Each of those supporting pillars was like an aspect of his anxiety that appeared to support the 'usefulness' of being anxious. This placed it on a pedestal and made it a bigger part of his experience. He had tried to push the anxiety boulder off the supports with all of his tools and techniques. The reason these had failed was because the foundational supports - the erroneous ideas that his anxiety had some usefulness - were completely undermining his attempts. He was in a classic double bind. On the one hand he didn't want to be in constant anxiety, but on the other hand he thought he needed to be anxious on some level to function.
I could see that my work with him needed to break the foundational pillars supporting the anxiety and help him realise insightfully that anxiety did not serve the functions that he thought they did. This would have the effect of lessening the value he placed on his anxiety, and so minimise his suffering when it showed up. But it would not take it away completely, and nor should it. Anxiety, like any other experience is part of being human. We don't eradicate it. Instead we come to see it more clearly such that when it arises, it's not something we have to engage with as if it has value. As such it becomes like any other emotion that we might experience in the ups and downs of our minds.
Over the course of a 3 day intensive online coaching program with me, we had the chance to spend some time really understanding these foundational supports to get him curious if they were actually true.
Some of the typical understandings that we challenge for someone with anxiety are:
- How often do our what if scenarios manifest really and how objectively true are these thoughts?
- How often have we been able to recover our peace of mind when those 'what if' events happen?
- What allows for that peace of mind to return and how does it work?
- How well can human beings navigate uncertainty in the moment versus in advance in their anxious thinking?
The exploration of these topics was clearly useful to my client as he started to see that actually he had coped numerous times, not only with what if scenarios that had occurred that he'd predicted, but also critically those that he hadn't. He also saw that when he hadn't managed to navigate these scenarios in the way that his mind had fixated that they should go, that somehow his mind had reset anyway and had eventually re-centred.
As his insight grew, I watched him begin to settle down. He was seeing anew that his anxiety neither helped him know what to do and was not an accurate predictor of events. The supports upholding the apparent usefulness of his anxiety were crumbling.
And as they did, I waited for one of those moments to arise that ALWAYS typically arise during an intensive.
That moment of stillness.
The peace and well-being that organically arises as our understanding increases, and we fall out of being in the hamster wheel of our minds.
At some point I found myself gently pointing out to my client the nature of this place.
That it is always available.
That we didn't find it by 'doing' anything.
We didn't change any aspect of his life.
We didn't figure anything out or solve any problems.
No. We just stopped for a moment. We fell out of thought and dropped into the stillness and well-being of who we are.
Our thinking minds will always convince us that we have to 'do' or change something to get to this place. Right now all of our thinking will be stirred up much more than ever because of the level of changes that we are experiencing in our lives. It will say things like:
It'll be okay:
- When I am out of lockdown
- When I get / don't get a vaccine
- When my political candidate wins
- When I don't feel anxious
- When I can book my summer holiday
- When the kids are finally back at school
- When I have avoided/made it through the virus
These thoughts look so compelling and true. We all have different versions of these thinking patterns. They look like things that really HAVE to happen for us to be at peace. When we get duped by them we end up in endless cycles of figuring out the minds troubles looking for answers to each objection. The result is that we become destabilised. We lose our footing We enter the content of our thinking and forget that before we started searching that we were already standing on solid ground in peace and quiet, right there in this very moment.
To touch this space before thought is to find what the philosopher Sydney Banks called "The Ultimate Answer". When we touch it and truly see and acknowledge it's nature, it starts to undermine the very foundation of our anxious thinking. How can we take the content of our thinking and it's attempt to find peace in the circumstances of our lives so seriously, when we have actually 'seen' and touched that we are peace itself?
For me to guide another human being into this space and then to help them to see the nature of it, is really the goal of the work. Once someone touches it, changes happen organically and surprisingly as my client found the next day after his intensive finished. He wrote a note to me thanking me for our time and said:
"I’m just in from the grocery store and it was the most pleasant trip in some time"
Years of anxiety undermined in just 3 days of exploration, simply from someone being reminded that who they are IS the Ultimate Answer. That no matter what happens, and no matter how uncertain life becomes - we ARE peace itself underneath the hamster wheel of our minds.
As the world continues to fluctuate and becomes more uncertain, this is the direction I'd point you towards. Is the quiet you are seeking in the current objection of your mind? Or is it here, right now, in the space before thought?
Let me know what you see.
Sending lots of love,
P.S - I know that a lot of people are really struggling with anxiety & uncertainty right now, like my client in this blog. Like him, I know many people are looking to find solid ground and a sense of wellbeing in an ever changing world.
Which is why I've decided to run a 3 day virtual workshop (tickets £199) to help you Find Solid Ground, click here for all the details.
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