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!
Living in the past or being anxious, or hopeful, of the future, robs you of the present. To live in the present learn to still your mind.
The mind thrives in the past or in the future. In the present, the mind is powerless. Observe your thoughts closely, they are always of the past that is over and done with. Or they are of the future which is yet to come. Living in the past is easy because you have been there – it is predictable and you know what has happened. Living the future is again something that the mind tricks you into – one moment it tells you that the future is unknown and so it is scary. In another it says since we don’t know what will happen in the future let us hope for the best. So, you oscillate between fear and hope, imagining a future that no one has seen. In doing all this, which is living in the past, or in the future, you simply miss living in the present. In the now.
Life however is only in the present. We miss the beautiful opportunity to live in the present because we are held hostage by the mind. In Oriental philosophy they say that the real Buddha is one who has learnt to live in the moment – and one who goes on living from moment to moment. There’s then no guilt or grief about the past. In fact there are no thoughts of the past. And there’s no anxiety about the future. Who needs the future when the present is so beautiful?
To make your mind powerless, to still it, simply immerse yourself in whatever you are experiencing in the moment. For instance, if you are in rush hour traffic – be in it. Don’t think of the day ahead and your running behind schedule. Don’t think of the weekend and pine for it to come back again. In the most practical sense, when you are in a Monday, the weekend is still five days away. No amount of pining for it can bring it any closer. Living in the moment means knowing that Monday will have to be lived through for a Friday to arrive! When the mind becomes powerless you develop phenomenal focus – there’s no clutter, there’s no grief, guilt, fear or insecurity. You simply are. And when you are, you are happy!
Whatever you are doing, be fully present in it. Then you will taste Life to the fullest, one sip at a time!
Earlier in the day, I was sipping some iced tea that my wife had made. She had topped it with some fresh mint. The tea was delicious. And the mint was refreshing. I enjoyed every sip of it. I simply loved the cold drink. I thought to myself that some tea-picker in Assam or Darjeeling or Munnar may have picked the leaf that was processed with utmost precision, then it must have been shipped to warehouses and then to a neighbourhood store before it ended up in our kitchen. My wife, while making the drink, must have taken so much care to ensure that there was just enough tea to keep the flavor mild – else it would have gone bitter. I was glad I was “present” and “mindful” as I sipped the tea. Because, there are times when I would have mechanically – just as you would have too – drunk it while checking facebook or reading the newspaper or working on my computer. When you are present and mindful of whatever small act you are doing, or are involved in, you see a great celebration of Life in it. When you are absent, you miss the magic in the moment, completely!
Osho, the Master, was, when he was a young boy, one day pulled up by his school principal.
The principal called him and said, “You are almost always absent from class.”
Osho said, “That’s where you are wrong.”
The principal said, “What do you mean?”
Osho said, “I am always present wherever I am. To be absent is not my style of Life. And what can I do? – this one mile between the school and my house…. A magician was doing his tricks on the street, and I became present there. It was far more interesting than your teachers, and I learned more than I could have learned here – because whatever your teacher is saying I can read in the book, but I will never meet that magician again. And he did such beautiful tricks that when he was finished I followed him to his tent outside the city.
“He asked me, ‘Son, why are you following me?’ I said, ‘You are getting old. Don’t you want your tricks to live on even when you are gone?’ He said, ‘That seems to be meaningful! – you can come in. Many people have asked me to teach them the tricks, but not in this way.’ So I have been with the magician.
“Life is a bigger school than your school. And I am, each moment, present wherever I am. To be absent is not my style of Life, so you please take your words back.”
The principal said, “In that case I will have to see your father.”
Osho replied, “You can see anybody you like, but remember that my father knows me perfectly well. Just let me be informed when you are coming so I can also be present there. You both will be absent – because my father is continuously busy with his business, and you are busy with who is absent, who is present. At least let somebody into that meeting who is present!”
Osho then told his principal: “Be honest and sincere and tell me: Are you present right now?”
He said, “My God, perhaps you are right. I was thinking of my buffalo – she has not returned for two days.”
Osho said, “You need not be worried, I know where she is. That’s the beauty of being present everywhere! I have seen her just by the side of the tent of the magician. Now what do you say: Was it more worthwhile my coming to the class, or finding your lost buffalo? You can go and catch hold of her.”
Osho’s debate with his principal may be a very unique instance of someone being able to challenge conventional thinking. But there’s a great lesson, an unputdownable takeaway in it. Which is, that when you are not present where you are, you often miss Life as it is happening to you. Whether it is in an important business meeting or when making love or when watching a movie or when driving – if you observe yourself closely, you will find that you are really not present. Which is why you are not at peace with yourself and your Life. Try immersing yourself in whatever you do, be mindful in the moment, and see how your Life transforms! Your problems and challenges may still remain where they are, but you will be drenched in peace and bliss!
Comparing yourself with others is what ruins your inner peace. Drop all comparisons. You are unique. Just as everyone else is.
A participant at one of my workshops recently asked me, “How do you not envy someone who has everything that you don’t?”
His question was as profound as it was candid. To compare, and often times, even subconsciously, feel jealous of someone is a normal human quality. But if you are aware, you will find that jealousy does not help in any manner. In fact, it ruins your inner peace. It is only through your awareness that you can drop comparisons and stop feeling jealous of someone!
I remember reading a story. A man was sitting peacefully on a mountain top. He was taking in the scenery. It was a beautiful morning. He had had a very rough time in the past few weeks. So, he had decided to trek up the mountain just to get some quiet time to himself. His girlfriend had deserted him. And he had been heart-broken over that incident. But coming here, up the mountain, had helped him greatly. He must have been sitting there for over four hours. And he did not once think about his ex-girlfriend. He did not feel anger or grief. He was able to see how beautiful Life was – just as it was, despite whatever he was going through. Around noon, a young couple arrived at the mountain top. They were happy to be with each other. The man saw this couple and his thoughts went back to his girlfriend and he started pining for her first. Then he was soon angry with her. And in some time, he was jealous of this other man for being able to have a girlfriend when he did not have one himself! The scenery and nature’s pristine beauty did not matter to him anymore. He was angry with Life. He left the place in a huff.
This story is very relevant. For it helps us understand the sequence of events that lead us to feeling miserable about any situation in Life. When the man was “present” in the moment, when he was taking in the scenery, he had no problems. For several hours he had no problems, no thoughts about his past. But the moment he allowed thoughts of his past, of his ex-girlfriend to creep in, he first started feeling uncomfortable, then angry and finally, miserable. This is the way the mind leads you to misery. When you are in the Now, when you are present in the moment, it is actually the state of no-mind. This is when all you are doing is that you are engaged in whatever is happening. If you are watching a movie, you are “in” it. If you are singing, you “are” the song. If you are reading a book, you “are” the book. There’s no past. There’s no future. There’s just you – in the Now!
The mind comes into play only when your attention wavers. Now awareness cannot stop your attention from wavering. But awareness can help you rein in your mind and bring your focus into the present moment. How do you build a higher level of awareness in you? Simple – by constantly training the mind to not interfere with the present. The mind thrives in debilitating emotions like guilt, grief, anger and worry – in the past or in the future. It is powerless in the present. To be sure, you too can train your mind through daily practices like meditation or mouna (observing silence periods).
So, don’t worry about your tendency to compare yourself with others or feel jealous of them. Those are the effects. Go to what’s causing the effect. Which is the mind. Work on training your mind. The more you train to not let your attention to waver, the more you will be present in the moment. And as long as you are present, no painful past or anxious future, can ever touch you. When you reach this state, through repeated practice, your Life will be blissful. Untouched by the scourge of comparison and envy!