April 27, 2013
Recently I received a question from a reader asking about anxiety: “This world and all of the bad news daily, has stressed me to the point of having anxiety on a regular basis. How can I heal? What do I do to stop it? Can you write a posting on anxiety and how it is cured, and how to avoid it?”
Anxiety is an emotional effect of an inner disharmony. The recent post “Fear, Lack and the Everyday Mind” went into some aspects of what underlies fear. There are two aspects to anxiety in my view which we can take a look at.
The first is its outer cause which relates directly to our power of attention. The reader’s question points to this in his reference to the world and all the bad news he is hearing about it. Our mental/emotional experience and our experience of the world is a result of where we direct our attention.
Attention is mostly directed out of habit meaning we don’t typically have much control over it unless we develop the power to direct it consciously. If our attention is consistently directed at negative or destructive objects or events, which is the usual conditioned habit, anxiety will be produced as we perceive these things as a threat.
We perceive what we call the world through the filter of our attention which means the world is not of any particular quality, we assign quality to it depending on how we interpret what we pay attention to.
If you ask ten people to describe the world in detail you will get a picture of ten different worlds varying in quality of experience.
Many people might say that the world is a dark, violent, negative dismal place, and if you regularly watch the news or indulge in mainstream entertainment you can see why.
However we need to be discriminating here and ask the question, is this an accurate picture of the world?
We live in a society that thrives on fear and emotionally charged drama, so I would say there is an intense bias as to what is ‘reported’ as ‘news’.
The world as we know it is made up of the mental and physical contribution of all the beings on this planet. The bleak picture of the world begins to fall apart when you take a broader perspective because there are many positive and wonderful things that are also happening.
This is not to say that destructive things aren’t happening, because they certainly are, and denying that is of no benefit, however it does help to expose the bias toward the darker side of life and allow our perception to be open to all aspects of experience.
The other part of the outer cause can be an internal negativity bias. What do we pay attention to inside our own minds? Do we give negative emotions too much energy? Do we focus on fearful stories of the future and past experiences of being wronged and believe them?
Or do we focus on what we want to create, the things we’re grateful for and the many beautiful events that occur everyday?
The world is a mixture of positive, negative and neutral events, and our version of it depends on what we focus on and what labels we apply. If we don’t like what we see around us or inside us, we must change it by giving attention, that is energy, to what we want our reality to be and removing our energy from what we don’t want.
Change happens from the inside out, not the other way around, which is why working to change things externally is so often ineffective.
To be free from anxiety requires first illuminating the disharmony and then dissipating it. Anxiety, like all states, has a cause. It is not our natural state, which means we have to be actively creating it in some way right now. And it’s usually an effect of paying attention to things which are fear-based, whether inwardly or outwardly or both.
The other element of anxiety goes right to the core of who and what we take ourselves to be. Most of us have an identity that consists of thoughts and beliefs (mind) and the body. There is nothing wrong with this, but if we are not in touch with the deeper aspect of who we are, whatever you would like to call that (God, Divine, Spirit, Consciousness), a baseline anxiety will always be there.
The body is fragile and subject to birth, aging, sickness and death. The mind is nothing more than a constantly changing flow of thoughts and feelings. If this is all we take ourselves to be, it is a very unstable basis for existence as the body/mind is under constant threat from all sorts of things and ultimately from time itself.
Thus most people consistently feel threatened in some way. So, while attention plays a key role in addressing anxiety and helping us focus on things that will create a better experience of life, the only real ‘cure’ in my view is discovering the deepest truth of who we are.
When we turn attention inward on itself, we penetrate to a level of being that is not subject to chaos and instability, a place of real peace. This place is before anxiety, independent of anxiety and already free of it. It is this way before, during and after an anxious state. It is before body/mind, before all things and it’s right here, right now, always present. We have only to turn the focus within and not stop until we reach the source.
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