30 May

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 - in fact the contributors are innumerable. Anxiety tends to be cyclical and the thought activity involved is powerful, triggering 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 woke up every day 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 marriage going, but after a very difficult year, my wife moved out of our home. During the next two years I had go through divorce and coming to terms with the loss of my family, as a consequence I found myself unable to focus on the business which went into decline, ultimately almost leading to bankruptcy and in this same period my father died.

That whole time 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! But 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.

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'. 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 usually know this because they have a complete hold on us, they pulsate and flow through our mind and body, often feeling totally overwhelming.

'The watcher' is not separate from who we are - it is who we are, at the deepest level. 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 process unfolds, anxiety and other disturbing experiences, become less intense, eventually fading away altogether.