The only way to get rid of anxiety is to not give it any attention.
In some situations in Life you may just not know what to do. Anxiety may then feed on your helplessness. You know that feeling anxious is not a solution __ but you go on fretting, fuming, worrying, fearing, because you don’t have a concrete action plan, a set of certified things you can and must do. This can be both habit-forming and debilitating. You are robbed of your inner peace and, over time, you become a complete wreck.
Several of us have ended up living Life like zombies – just going about things, wearily, while being held hostage by our own anxieties. It all began at some time with not knowing what to do. And it continues to be so, not knowing how to live and what to do about getting rid of our own anxieties!
There’s a way out. That way has always been there for you, in front of you, but you have not seen it because you have been preoccupied. Finding that way and getting on that path requires a simple appreciation and understanding of how Life operates. And how our human mind works.
First, know that there is no guarantee that every problem you face can and must be solved by you. So, accept that it is perfectly fine not to know what to do in some Life situations. Second, understand that your anxiety is always about non-existent stuff. You may be anxious about the past – having done something that you regret. But the past is over. It is done and dead. So what’s so intelligent about grieving the past and being anxious about it? Or you may be anxious about the future – which has not happened, so, in effect, it too is non-existent! What’s so intelligent again about worrying of a future that is unborn? But the human mind thrives on anxiety. It loves the past. It thrives in the future. And so it simply prefers to stay anxious. And you, if you want to get over your anxieties, you need to break that mind pattern of yours. You need to bring your mind to focus on the present. It is only in the present that the mind becomes powerless. It is only when you are living in the present moment that you will be free of all anxiety and you will find inner peace.
Bringing your mind to focus on the present and for you to gain mastery over your mind requires no rocket science. Osho, the Master, often told a Zen story to teach how ingenious some solutions to this universal problem can be:
Bokuju, a Zen Master lived alone in a cave. He would sometimes say loudly, “Bokuju” — his own name, and then he would answer, “Yes, I am here.” His disciples used to ask him, “Why are you calling ‘Bokuju’, your own name, and then saying, ‘Yes sir, I am here’?” Bokuju said, “Whenever I get into anxious thinking, I have to remember to be alert, and so I call my own name, ‘Bokuju.’ The moment I call ‘Bokuju’ and I say, ‘Yes sir, I am here,’ the anxious thinking disappears.”
Asking this question to yourself, calling out your own name, works. Because it breaks the circuit, it interrupts the anxious train of thoughts that are speeding through your mind’s highway. I have devised a simple variation of the same concept. I often tell myself, “AVIS, Steady! Steady!” Or I repeat a simple mantram (this is what I learned from my guru Eknath Easwaran) or an easy-to-recall inspirational quote. Those approaches too work.
Use whatever method works for you and helps serve as your circuit-breaker. Once the debilitating chain of thoughts is broken, your mind, momentarily, arrives in the moment. Just hold it there, just be, and you will be free of all anxiety. So, in situations when you don’t know what to do, try just being! And feel the difference!
To be fearless, just ask yourself ‘what is it that you are afraid of losing’?
At a Talk that I delivered recently, a young lady asked me how to deal with insecurity and fear. She said she often spent long spells of time imagining stuff that could possibly happen to her – a pink slip, a health setback, a relationship problem, her son failing in school and such.
“I know it is stupid to be this way. But how does one get rid of ‘worst-case scenarios’ from your head,” she asked.
I, in turn, asked her: “What is the worst that can happen to you?”
She thought for a moment and replied: “Two things – either my son can die or I can die. Yes, these are my worst-case scenarios.”
My next question to her was this: “Is there anything that you can do to prevent these scenarios from ever happening in your Life?”
Again she thought about it deeply and exclaimed: “No. Seriously, noooooooooooo!”
I asked her: “So why worry and fear about something that you can’t prevent?”
And that is really how you get rid of worst-case scenarios in your head. To be sure, the human mind can beat any Bollywood screenwriter in terms of conjuring up unheard of, unfathomable, often fantasy-based scenarios. Some of them will necessarily torment you with worry, anxiety, insecurity and fear. There is a pretty simple way to deal with these debilitating emotions.
In every situation that makes me fearful, I ask myself what is the worst that can happen. And I tell my mind that I am ready and willing for that eventuality. For instance, in a matter relating to a police complaint filed against me, by my creditor, it had become evident that if the court disallowed my bail application, I would be arrested and remanded in custody. I asked my lawyer if there was a way out. He said that there was none since I did not have money to furnish a personal surety (a financial bond). This situation was unfolding in another city. Honestly, I was feeling very restless and fearful. So, I took a deep breath and called up Vaani. I briefed her of the logical, practical reality we were faced with. And then I told her, “Listen, I will stay strong where I am and wherever I have to go. You stay strong too. A way will be born soon.” Just that acceptance of whatever our reality was at that moment – that I will be arrested, so be it! – changed the way I felt. I became fearless. In another situation, when I was diagnosed with a possible life-threatening health condition, I considered the worst that could happen to me if we didn’t find the money to get a surgery done. I would die, I reckoned. The whole scenario of my impending death unfolded in my mind’s eye and I actually started smiling. Of course, all of us will die, I remember thinking. “And this was perhaps my time to die,” I had concluded. That thought actually made me feel lighter – and totally fearless. From then on, whenever I am faced with any no-go situation – and I have to deal with several of them each week – I remind myself that “I was once even prepared to die”. Whenever I do this, my fear always slinks away.
Life’s an amazing paradox. When you fill yourself you feel an eerie emptiness. And when you empty yourself you feel a joyful fullness!
Think about your Life deeply. What are you filling it with? The more you fill yourself with fear, guilt, grief, ego, anxiety, greed and desires, the more empty you feel. You can’t just escape the emptiness. You may call it by any name: mid-life crisis, not enjoying your job, unhappy with your partner, feel lost with how to raise your children, whatever. But you do feel empty. The irony, however, is that to rid yourself of this emptiness, all you need to do is to empty yourself. When you empty yourself of all wasteful emotions, like those listed above, or many more, you are emptying yourself of your self. This is when you are enriched, filled with love and are full of peace. This fullness is what is called bliss. Emptying yourself of your self means to get rid of the ‘I’!
Several years ago, when my business started going horribly wrong, I sat in my hotel room in Bengaluru and shared my worries with a good friend, Deepak Pawar, a highly acclaimed media photographer in India. He’s much older to me and I have always valued his perspective. What was causing me immense grief was the way my team was behaving with me. There were resignations, a case of embezzlement and even blackmail from a colleague who threatened to share company data with competition if his salary was not paid. This was tragic for me. We had not only given this gentleman employment but had also supported his MBA program and his coaching in spoken English. As I shared my woes, describing my Life as being ‘empty, meaningless and thankless’, with Deepak, he said, “For your Life to be full and meaningful, you must shed yourself of your ego AVIS.” I was devastated by his remark. I shot back: “Sorry Sir, with due respect to you, I disagree. You are saying I have an ego. I don’t. I have worked hard to grow my business and I have done so with humility. My team is family to me. This colleague of mine who is today threatening me, I have groomed him. I have trained him. I have educated him. I have always sat with him and guided him on how to plan his career professionally. I have done so much for him and you are saying…” Deepak cut me short. He smiled and said, “Just see the number of times you have said ‘I’ in your defense just now AVIS….That ‘I’…that’s your ego speaking….that guy, the ‘I’ in you…you must empty yourself of that ‘I’…and you will find meaning and a Life full of peace and happiness!”
To me that moment, that nano-second, was the ‘CTRL+ALT+DEL’ moment of my Life. With that enlightening perspective, Deepak opened my eyes, helping me see clearly, why there was so much emptiness in my Life. Osho’s masterly perspective on this too helped me immensely: “Emptying oneself means emptying of all content – just as you empty a room of all the junk that has gathered there, over the years. When you have emptied the room of all the furniture and all the things, you have not destroyed the room, not at all; you have given it more roominess, more space. When all the furniture is gone, the room asserts itself, the room is.” What’s interesting is, as I discovered, when the ‘I’ goes out of you, all the parasites that thrive on it, off it__fear, guilt, grief, anxiety, greed and desires__run after it too. The feeling you get with emptying yourself, and therefore filling your Life with abundance and bliss, is truly liberating. It has to be experienced to be understood. It has to be lived!
When you are anchored in inner peace, your body functions the best.
Photo Courtesy: Mid-Day/Internet
This morning’s The New Indian Express (TNIE) carries a story of Swami Parthasarathy playing cricket. Parthasarathy, now 88, was once a businessman and is now a corporate guru who teaches managers to live intelligently! He lectures frequently on the Bhagavad Gita and runs Vedanta World, a learning academy in Malavli, near Pune. Sharing the key to his fitness, he told TNIE: “When you don’t worry about the past and don’t get anxious over the future, you stay fit.”
This is such a simple, beautiful, perspective. Yet this philosophy eludes most of us. Because we have come to somehow believe that our lives are complex and so only a complex solution can help rid us of our problems. Resultantly, we keep waiting for a perfect future, where there will be no problems and we can live happily ever after. The truth, however, is that there is and can never be a perfect future – you can never have a Life that is free from problems. All you can and must do is to live your present perfectly. What prevents this from happening is the mind. It draws you into grief, anger and guilt over the past and into anxiety and worry over the future. So, you are never present in the now. The now is perfect. It is what it is, the way it is. But you are not here. You are brooding or you are worrying. So you are besieged with lifestyle-related ailments – diabetes, hypertension, stress, cholesterol and such. What is a lifestyle ailment? Anything that is an outcome of the Life you lead. So, if you can train your mind not to worry and if your Life can be a continuous celebration of a series of present moments, your body will be fit and you can enjoy the pleasures of a good, productive Life.
I don’t say this from a philosophical perspective alone. I have been there – so I know what it means to be trapped in an unhealthy lifestyle situation. And I have experienced the power of transforming my Life by changing the way I think. I once had a tobacco habit and was obese. And I am both diabetic and hypertensive. When I understood the role the mind played in my physical condition I worked on training my mind. Over time, I have learned to rein in my mind and now know how to stay focused on the present. I have since shed my excess weight and have been able to keep my key physical markers under check. I did this through the practice of daily silence periods – mouna. So, I know that you too can do this. Your method may be different depending on what works for you. But I want to reiterate that it is both possible to train the mind and, therefore, stay fit. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in or the hours you keep. You just need to be willing to be the change that you want to see in you!
Inner peace is not elusive. It is not complicated. If you stop imposing conditions on the way your Life must be, and instead accept it for what it is, you will start living, than merely existing. When you live fully, in the present moment, you will experience inner peace and you will see the magic and beauty of a healthier, happier Life!
To enjoy Life and to live each moment fully move from mind to no-mind.
To expect thoughts – the drunken monkeys – not to arise in your mind is futile. As long as you are alive your mind will be churning out thoughts. Intelligent living is the ability to tame the drunken monkeys and make them powerless by staying in the present. This then is the state of no-mind. Try to be in this state for as long as possible each day. That’s the only way to not be held hostage by the past or be fearful of the future. That is the only way to live in the now!
Whatever we give attention to in Life grows.
You and I are who we are because of what we have focused on. If we have dwelt on mundane issues, we will be stuck in the rut. If we have looked at the magic and beauty of Life, we will be surrounded by people, events and scenarios that make us happy. For you to understand how this works, you must know what’s important for you in Life. And you must shift your attention to those things, those pursuits that are really important. When you look at the roads, the unpicked garbage and the street people or when you read the headlines about selfish, corrupt people you will end up being cynical. This cynicism will grow. Making you bitter and angry. Instead, if you focus on the good that people do each day to make your Life possible with a degree of comfort you have chosen, you will find gratitude welling up within you. This gratitude will make you both peaceful and prosperous. If you focus on how it’s possible for your child to go astray in this big, bad world, that feeling of insecurity will chew you up. It will haunt you even in your sleep. Instead if you focus on the joy of having brought a new Life into this world, through you, and allow that goodwill to grow within you, you will see your child as a wholesome individual charting her own path in this world.
In Life, all things you seek and that comfort you are mundane at one level: the money you have, the control you think you have on your circle of influence, the respect you get from society and other such similar stuff. And yet what you have and don’t think of always are the most important at another level: this Life, your family, the ability to touch, see, feel, hear, express….Give your attention to what’s more important than to what comforts you. You will then invite abundance unlimited into your Life!
Keep Life simple – in any situation, be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. You will then be free from worry!
I simply love a joke that Osho, the Master, used to narrate. A doctor calls his patient to give him the results of a crucial medical test. “I have some bad news and some worse news,” says the doctor. “The bad news is that you only have 24 hours to live.” “Oh no,” says the patient. “What could possibly be worse than that?” The doctor replies, “I have been trying to reach you since yesterday.” Osho says the best way to live is to accept that, often times, even the worst can – and perhaps will – happen to us!
It is a lack of this acceptance that causes us to cower in fear, insecurity, anxiety and worry. The human mind is very intelligent. It will paint all possible scenarios and outcomes in any event which is governed by the possibility of uncertain outcomes. Some of these outcomes may cause you to feel insecure and fearful. For instance, when someone is in hospital and the prognosis is hardly encouraging, your mind will project outcomes varying from a miraculous recovery to an inevitable loss. Every time you want to believe in a miraculous recovery, dark possibilities of prolonged hospitalization, perhaps a comatose state and even death will arise within you. When you fear those possibilities that you don’t want to accept, or even consider, you are allowing worry to consume you. You are feeding your fears. The best way to deal with this situation is to be stoic about it – be prepared for whatever you fear the most, in this case, possibly, death. And yet, hope – and if you like to, pray – for a miraculous recovery. This way you will be free from fear, anxiety and worry. And that freedom will give you the opportunity to focus on providing your patient the best possible care.
Remember some problems in Life cannot be solved. There’s no point worrying about them. And there’s no point worrying about those problems which you can solve either. So, intelligent living is all about living worry-free. Think about it: if worry can solve problems, or if it can heal cancers, or if it can get people jobs, or if it can prevent break-ups or if it can eliminate death from our lives – then wouldn’t the world be a much happier place than it is? Because, aren’t a huge majority of people on the planet investing their every waking moment in worrying? The truth is that worrying gets us nowhere. Quit worrying. Be ready to face the worst in Life and yet believe that the best will happen to you. There’s no other way to live happily!
Your mind can be your best friend. So, don’t try to conquer it. Instead befriend it. Have conversations with it. Reason with it. Laugh with it! This is the only way you can get along with your mind, without it controlling you!
There’s an interesting story I remember reading. A sage was offering his prayers, when a very pretty lady walked past. He got distracted and kept thinking about her all day. The next morning he resolved that he would not get distracted by the beautiful woman. So, he closed his eyes tight. But when the lady walked past him, he was able to smell the jasmine flowers she wore in her hair and so he got distracted again. He was now angry with himself and vowed to close his eyes and nose the next morning. Yet, when the lady went past him, he was able to ‘feel’ her presence because he heard the sound of her anklets pass him by. Angry and completely lost, the sage vowed now to close his ears as well. But despite his intention being right and his making a valiant effort, he could still ‘feel’ her presence the next day, even when his eyes, nose and ears were closed. That’s when the sage concluded that it was ‘all in the mind’.
Indeed. It always was, is and will be so! But however hard you try, you can never control the mind. The mind is like a tennis-ball spewing machine that players use to perfect their strokes. The mind spews thoughts endlessly, like the machine spews tennis balls. On an average, a human mind spews 60,000 thoughts daily. These thoughts range from the bizarre to the fearful to the practical to the anxious to fantasy stuff, all at the same time. Which is, in most unevolved and untrained human beings, the mind is never in the present. It is clinging on to a past memory or dwelling in a future worry! The Buddha describes the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys __ who never sit still and keep jumping from tree to tree, from banana to mango to orange, screeching and screaming all the time! And, says the Buddha, the only way to calm your drunken monkeys down is to have conversations with them. Which is, to talk to your own mind.
When you speak to your own mind, you can be very sure that you will not be interpreted but will be understood. That you can be candid, you can choose to disagree and still be on ‘talking terms’! Wouldn’t you say the same thing of speaking your heart (or mind!) to and sharing with a friend?
Los Angeles-based sociologist and author, BJ Gallagher, shares her secret for making your mind your best friend on her blog:
“I’ve found that engaging the monkeys in gentle conversation can sometimes calm them down. I’ll give you an example: Fear seems to be an especially noisy monkey for people like me who own their own business. As the years go by, Fear Monkey shows up less often, but when he does, he’s always very intense. So I take a little time out to talk to him.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” I ask him.
“You’ll go broke,” Fear Monkey replies.
“OK, what will happen if I go broke?” I ask.
“You’ll lose your home,” the monkey answers.
“OK, will anybody die if I lose my home?”
“Hmmm, no, I guess not.”
“Oh, well, it’s just a house. I suppose there are other places to live, right?”
“Uh, yes, I guess so.”
“OK then, can we live with it if we lose the house?”
“Yes, we can live with it,” he concludes.
“And that usually does it. By the end of the conversation, Fear Monkey is still there, but he’s calmed down. And I can get back to work, running my business and living my Life,” says Gallagher.
So, stop obsessing over your mind. There are NO mind-control methods. You can at best make your mind your best friend. Talk to your mind, to your drunken monkeys – to the Fear Monkey, the Anxiety Monkey, the Sorrow Monkey, the Jealous Monkey and any other, as the situation may demand. And calm them down. Once you have achieved that, you and your mind, the two of you, can be Best Friends Forever!
Make your Life your prayer. And you will be soaked in peace.
The popular notion that we have, thanks to our upbringing and conditioning, is that prayer is an action that requires a time, a place and certain necessary and sufficient conditions. Each religion preaches worship through prayer differently. Therefore, while all of us have become adept at prayer, and praying, we have become completely incapable of living our lives meaningfully! Even when in prayer, the mind is distracted, often anxious, fearful and disturbed! How can merely, mechanically, by rote, chanting a mantra or reciting a hymn, compensate for intelligent living?
This is my humble, personal view. Over the years, I have learned that your entire Life, the way you live, think and work, can be prayer if you understand that this lifetime is a gift and that you must forever be grateful to Life for this experience! Choosing forgiveness over angst, love over hatred, postponing worrying than postponing happiness, serving others over seeking deservance for yourself, practising gratitude over harboring expectations and making each moment count are all ways in which you can live your Life prayerfully. When you do this, repeatedly, over days and months and years, you become the peace that you seek. This doesn’t mean that Life will not serve you any more problems. Problems – perhaps even complex ones – will always be there. But you will be able to deal with each of them effectively and efficiently, because you are now anchored in peace.
It is only because you relegate peace and prayer to a specific time, and do it with a ritualistic obsession and not with soulful fervor, that you are unable to escape fear, worry, anxiety, guilt, grief and suffering. But if you make your Life your prayer, always being grateful for all that you have, you will always be at peace – with yourself and your world!