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, work, family, relationships - in fact the contributors are innumerable. Anxiety tends to arise in all of us in moments or periods of stress, but it can become like a background tension that never goes away. The thought activity involved around anxiety is powerful, and it triggers reactions that can manifest as negative physiological and psychological outcomes including physical disorders, depression, and even serious illness.
When I ran my business for 20 years, I often found it difficult to fall asleep at night and woke up every morning feeling anxious. Soon after starting the business I became step-father to four young children and over the next few years, my monthly outgoings for home and business sky-rocketed - and with this, the anxiety grew. Roll forward a few 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 family together and the marriage going, but after a very difficult year, my wife moved out of our home. During the next two years I had to go through divorce and all that goes with it. I found myself unable to focus on the business which consequently went into decline, ultimately almost leading to bankruptcy, and then, when it was all at its most intense, my father died.
That period of my life 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 deeply transformative learning experience …not that it felt like it at the time!
The collapse of ‘my world’, made me question everything I thought I knew. And the pain sent me inward in search of answers. I looked to spiritual teachings, contemplation and meditation for something that would relieve me of the anxiety and depression. Then quite suddenly, totally out of the blue, an understanding revealed itself... I was not who I had always believed myself to be! ...I was not my beliefs, thoughts, feelings - there was a deeper self in the background - and it was untouched by minute-by-minute, day-to-day fluctuations in my thoughts or mood. This was a profound realisation.
I had discovered that everything that happened inside my body and mind could be 'watched'. In time I came to see that all emotions, thinking, mental states, including depression, elation, happiness, sadness, anger and anxiety, although powerfully able to seem overwhelming, are actually only on the surface.
As time passed and I learned to rest in the place of 'The Watcher' it became obvious that it was not separate from who I was, but it was the true center of 'me' at the deepest level. Descriptions of it are rather futile, but it is 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 thoughts, emotions and sensations in the body lose their power to completely draw our attention and take us over, and therefore cannot become as solid or remain as intense. We continue to experience everything, but now more like ripples or waves on the surface, while we are in the calm deep water beneath.