Nothing the thinking mind does or can do is any help in freeing us from anxiety. We can’t think or strategise our way out of anxiety. We can’t utilise any ‘tools’ to help us overcome it – the reason for this being that the attempt to overcome (or ‘solve’) anxiety is itself anxiety. Trying to solve (or fix) anxiety always ‘feeds right back into the loop’, therefore. It tightens the loop and makes it more painful.
Anxiety = ‘the runaway fixing activity of the mind’ and if we try to fix this runaway fixing activity then we just spin the wheel of the mind even faster! If we try to figure out what’s going on (= ‘analysing the problem’) then we just spin the wheel faster. Any activity of the thinking mind always spins the wheel faster. There’s a huge iron fly-wheel spinning around and around and any attempt to fix the problem which is this ‘spinning flywheel’ just puts more momentum into that wheel.
When we ask the thinking mind to help us, and ‘hand over the reins to it’ then this means putting even more momentum into the wheel. The wheel is the thinking mind when it has got too much energy in it – how can we ask the runaway fixing mind to ‘fix the problem’ when it itself is the problem? How can we use the thing that creates the problem to solve the problem?
We have a dependency upon the everyday rational mind that we just don’t want to examine. We have a lifelong habit of using the thinking mind to feel good about things, to give ourselves a sense of validation or security. Everyone has this habit, and the point here is that when we do this we’re using the thinking mind for a job that it was never meant to do. The thinking mind can’t do this job – it can’t be used to validate ourselves, to make us feel good about our situation, to provide us with a sense of security or meaning.
The reason for this is that the thinking mind always operates outside of the present moment (either in the future in the past) and only the present moment is real. How can we get a sense of security or well-being or meaning out of something that isn’t real, out of something that is only a conjecture, therefore? The sense of security, or sense of well-being, can only ever be as real as the place that it is coming from and ‘psychological time’ (which is where thought is operating from) is not real. It’s only a ‘conjectural reality’, as we have just said. It’s a guess, it’s ‘a shot in the dark’.
We are hanging our sense of well-being on a cobweb if we use the thinking mind to get a sense of validation and orientation from. We’re looking in the wrong place. Even when it seems to work well and we feel okay or secure as a result of our thoughts about ourselves and the world, this is only really ‘a disaster waiting to happen’. There is always a crisis waiting in the wings and the reason for this is that the thinking mind is like a sword – it has two edges to it not just the one. Because it has two edges it can ‘flip around’ from one edge to the other at the drop of the hat. The same is true with the thinking mind. The thinking mind can make us feel ‘good about things for an unreal reason’ and it can also make us feel ‘bad about things for an unreal reason’. It can do this just as easily. If we hand over our power to it (so that it determines how we feel) then it can devalidate us just as readily as it can validate us.
Why would we want to hang our ‘well-being’ or ‘peace of mind’ on a cobweb? Why would we want to attach it to something is treacherous as thought? How ever did we get into this situation of ‘feeling good about ourselves as a result of what we think’, rather than in connection with what is actually real?
One reason is of course because it’s easy – there’s an immediate result. If I anticipate a positive outcome and allow myself to believe (on some unconscious level, of course) that it’s ‘in the bag’, then straightaway I feel good, then straightaway I obtain the euphoria that I’m looking for. This is basically cheating, but who cares? It works on the short-term anyway, and that’s all we care about. ‘Easy’ is a very big reason, therefore! ‘Easy’ accounts for a lot of what we do…
The alternative is not easy. If we don’t look for our sense of well-being in the future or in the past, then this only leaves the present moment and the present moment is a tricky place for us to get a grip on! There is no security in the present moment, in other words. Of course there’s no security in the present moment – the present moment is undecided, it’s uncertain. The present moment is ‘the unfolding of the new’ and we can’t say what it is that is going to unfold. We can’t anticipate it, in other words; we can only ‘hang in there’ and see what happens.
The ‘present moment’ is a tricky customer therefore – it doesn’t allow us any sense of security. We can’t take anything for granted. We can’t doze, we can’t fall asleep on the job. All we can do is stay with it; all we can do is stay open to the uncertainty of the moment that is unfolding and so ‘security’ (in the context of actual reality) simply isn’t the thing. There’s no such thing as the security we’re looking for.
This doesn’t mean that there is no possibility of experiencing well-being or peace of mind, however! There is a different type of well-being to be had out of relating to the uncertainty of the present moment and this is the well-being that we get from relating directly to a ‘non-conceptual reality’, which is actually the only type of reality there is. The well-being we get from relating to the non-conceptual reality is just another way of talking about ‘the well-being of being alive’, since relating to the unfolding uncertainty of the present moment is what ‘being alive’ really means. There is no other type of ‘being alive’!
When we derive our ‘sense of ourselves’ from our thoughts, from the thought-created world, then we’re not properly alive at all. We’re not awake. We’re in a dream. We are in a state of ‘psychological sleep’, as all the meditation teachers over the centuries have told us! We’re ‘lost in the world of our own unconscious assumptions’, we are living in ‘a mind-produced image of the world’, not the real thing. We are living in Jean Baudrillard’s ‘Realm of the Hyperreal’, which is ‘the menu not the meal’…
As Anthony de Mello puts it –
Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence.
The present moment is a flowing stream and so there is no possibility of security here! Thought – on the other hand – creates ‘fixed structures’ and so there actually is the possibility of security to be had here. There is the possibility of a ‘sense of security to be had here but this so-called ‘security’ cuts both ways, as we have just said – it is euphoria-producing to the exact same extent that it is dysphoria-producing. Euphoria doesn’t come from ‘relating to reality’ but from relating to our ‘rigid ideas about reality’, from relating to our ‘plans for reality’, and dysphoria (or ‘negative euphoria’) is simply the flip-side of this. Our thoughts about reality can make us feel good when we shouldn’t be feeling good, and they can also make us feel bad when there is no real need for us to feel bad, as every sufferer from anxiety knows!
What helps when we are anxious is not more thinking therefore. That’s the very last thing we need! Trying to ‘manage’ anxiety just makes it worse. What helps is not relating to the fixed structures that thought has created (i.e. our ideas about the past and the future), but relating directly and simply to the unfolding of the uncertainty of the present moment. We won’t obtain a false sense of security this way (the false sense of security that puts us to sleep, as Anthony de Mello says) but we will get back a sense of being alive, a sense of being awake. This teaching has been around for a very long time – it’s not some newfangled gimmick! As we read in the Dao De Jing (which was written over 2,500 years ago in ancient China) –
It is by being alive to difficulty that one can avoid it. The sage meets with no difficulty. It is because he is alive to it that he meets with no difficulty.