12 Feb

I know how anxiety feels. I have had my share...

Anxiety is very common. It is a complex condition that can have its origins in troubles with health, money, education, work, relationships, belief systems - in fact the contributors are innumerable. The thought activity around anxiety is cyclical and powerful, triggering reactions in the body and mind that can manifest as negative physiological and psychological outcomes including physical disorders, depression, and even serious illness.

When I started and then ran my business for 20 years, I woke up every day feeling anxious. Then I met a woman and we soon married. Through this marriage I became step-father to four young children. Over the next few years, my monthly outgoings for home and business sky rocketed and with it the stress and accompanying anxiety grew. Roll forward a few more years and shockingly I discovered that my wife had been cheating. I remember the feeling - it was like the ground under my feet became quicksand. Devastating as this was, I decided I wanted to try to keep the marriage going, but after a very difficult year, my wife moved out of our home. During the next two years I found myself unable to focus on the business and it went into decline, ultimately almost leading to bankruptcy. In the same period I went through a very expensive divorce, and toward the end of this time, my father died.

That whole period was like a never ending nightmare. Acute anxiety was constantly with me, and in the latter stages, before the wave had crashed and receded, I had a short bout of dark depression.

Although incredibly difficult, looking back I can see that the whole episode was a deep learning experience …not that it felt like it at the time! I know now that it led me to the doorway of a profound realisation. 

The collapse of ‘my world’, made me question everything I thought I knew. And the pain sent me inward in search of answers. In time I came to see that all emotions, thinking, mental states, including depression, elation, happiness, sadness, anger, even love for others, although powerful and sometimes all-consuming, are actually only surface phenomena. We don’t know this because they have a complete hold on us, they pulsate and flow through our mind and body, often feeling totally overwhelming.

Through immersing myself in various spiritual teachings, contemplation and meditation, I came to know I was not my beliefs, thoughts, my body etc., that there was a deeper self in the background, and that this was untouched by minute-by-minute, day-to-day fluctuations in experience, feelings, thoughts or mood. I discovered that everything that happened inside the body and mind could be 'watched'.

The watcher is not separate, and descriptions of it are rather futile, but it can be felt as pure awareness, or 'presence'. Its qualities are peace, stillness, freedom. As we get in touch with it, we realise it is where we come from, we are truly at home there.

When we get to know this 'place', all external mind/thought/body/emotion content loses its power to completely draw our attention into itself, and therefore cannot become or remain solid. We continue to experience everything, but now more like ripples or waves on the surface, while we remain in the calm behind/beneath. As this happens, anxiety, as all other disturbing experiences that have their home in our mind, begins to lose its intensity, eventually dissipating altogether.