Times They Are a Changing
The world is changing, that much is certain, and is long overdue. How far and how quickly things will change remains to be seen but we won’t be going back to how things were, although you can bet that many people and institutions will try and get back to business as usual. So much is different right now: from working at home or not working at all, being with partners much more that we are used to, not having the physical contact with friends and family that stabilises us in many ways, to simple everyday things such as shopping. One thing is certain, uncertainty and change are here and I don’t think they are going away any time soon so we need to find a way to accommodate this fact.
Anxiety and Worry
All of us are innately afraid of change and the unknown to one degree or another. It is built into being human. What is certain right now is that life on Earth is changing and we don’t know how it will pan out and how we will be affected as individuals. Many of us will understandably be anxious about family, our livelihoods, paying bills or becoming ill. Some of us will find current circumstances deeply triggering because of unhealed traumas.
I grew up feeling that the world was a dangerous place and that people couldn’t be trusted. I have struggled with PTSD, anxiety and many related issues such as OCD all of my life so not having to go out into the world feels easier than pre-lockdown life in some ways. Actually being instructed to hide from others and everyday life has been strangely freeing although, paradoxically, I do miss social contact, the everyday chit-chat with others. However, I can still be swamped by the familiar feelings of anxiety and doom for no apparent reason and completely of the blue. All too easily this can lead to patterns of worry and rumination that can go on and on. I have learned that while I may not have a choice over when feelings of anxiety arise, I do have a choice in what I do with these feelings. I don’t have to go into worry mode.
The Spiritual Approach
Many years ago I read a description of being human that has stuck with me and been very useful. It described two birds sitting in a tree one higher up the tree than the other. The bird on the lower branch kept flying off doing bird stuff, being busy then returning to its branch briefly before flying off to do something else. The bird above just sits on its branch peacefully and watches this activity and all the stressful ups and downs that the lower bird goes through but it is unconcerned with this. This is a simple metaphor for our higher and lower selves, our peaceful divine self and the human self attached to all manner of things, the true self and the ego self we so heavily identify with.
Working on ourselves using a spiritual approach helps us identify more with the bird on the higher branch and connect more and more with this divine aspect of ourselves. When we do this we find we can be more peaceful and accepting when stuff happens in our lives instead of pushing back against it. It is this resisting that creates much of the struggle and suffering we experience. Stuff still happens, it must do, life will bring both pleasant and uncomfortable experiences. Ultimately a higher power will always bring us experiences so we can grow. This can range from a moment of bliss to something very difficult indeed. Given the current uncertainty, working towards being more sanguine about this is helpful to say the least.
Making Space for Ourselves and What is Happening
Using the bird metaphor above, we would benefit from spending less of life living from the lower bird’s perspective which is filled with thoughts such as “I must do ….”, “I’ve got to make sure that….”, “I need to control …..”, “There’s no time to …..” etc. The upper bird’s perspective is one of space, calmness and ease with whatever is happening which is what we want more of right now. One can see that from the lower bird’s perspective that the space for anything different to come in just isn’t there, so we need to STOP and make space. It is the only way for us to hear the quiet calling of the heart and its wisdom, to give us the chance to see a different way because it won’t come from the mind and its incessant loud demands. I acknowledge that this can be scary, but if we want to feel differently we need to make space for change to occur and this is the perfect time to do this because many of us have the time and space right now if we choose to take advantage of it.
Meditation – yes that old chestnut again!
We can view meditation as taking the time to spend a bit of quality time on or nearer the higher branch where we can sit and watch the habitual thoughts and driving nature of the lower bird within ourselves. This may be uncomfortable sometimes – meditation is not about relaxation per se. By observing what arises from within and letting it come and go without following the thoughts, we detach from them for a while. We may see sides of us that we have been blind to, or see old “friends” come and go in our thoughts but without getting involved in what they try and lead us into doing. In this way one can, for example, watch sensations of anxiety arise in the body without following it into patterns of worry. The thoughts may try and pop up, but if one just acknowledges them and brings one’s attention back to the breath then we start to train ourselves to the point where one day we realise that we do have a choice about whether to worry or not. We begin to identify less and less with this part of us and adopt a higher, more accepting position. Sounds simple and easy but isn’t of course. However, making the effort brings great rewards in time. Simply allowing feelings to be present within us without getting sucked into what they all mean opens many doors to change, as old energies that can hold us hostage are allowed to move and be released.
Knowing or KNOWING.
The problem with reading about taking a different perspective like this is that it can be very difficult to accept or imagine until one has experienced it for oneself. For instance we are told that all is well and always is. However, most of us don’t really connect with the truth of this even if we believe it to be true. When we are blessed with a glimpse of the greater truth it transforms what we “know” into KNOWING. Direct experience of our true nature transforms someone else’s teaching that we accepted into a deep conviction that becomes ours to hold forever.
Spending Time as Pure Awareness
I’ve never been a big meditation fan. Quite frankly it felt like something I was supposed to do rather than wanted to do. But over time and working with the Emerald Heart Light for quite a few years now I can see I was running from myself by not meditating. However, even if my meditations were short and shallow they helped me to slowly become more comfortable about being with myself and all the discomfort that came with that. A few weeks ago, I sat in bed one morning and out of the blue came a feeling of doom and anxiety, that horrible sick knot building in my stomach and tension in my body, same old, same old.
Years ago I would have either tried to analyse it and find out the cause, found something to worry about to the point I got some sense of resolution or got up and busied myself to the point of exhaustion (my personal favourite). In the last couple of years I have learned to just sit and let the sensations do what they do and be curious enough to wait and see what happens. In other words be willing to feel the anxiety and be present with it. With patience the sensations nearly always change and move before leaving through my heart and things settle down. Just old energy being allowed to express itself and be released. This time however I became much more still and more still again until I realised something seemingly magical was happening. It is extremely hard to describe but I became aware that my body was experiencing anxiety, it had all the usual knots, tightness and nausea in it, yet I wasn’t anxious at all. I was sitting in a moment of complete peace and free of suffering while realising that my body was tying itself in knots with anxiety. I felt fine, better than fine, in fact all WAS well, really well. I didn’t care what I was experiencing, it was OK. My teacher had taught me that while pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Spiritual masters may die an unpleasant death but be untroubled by it and now I understood what he meant. I was given the chance to spend a little time from the perspective of my true self as pure awareness.
The gift of feeling what it is like to sit on the higher branch for a while and experience ourselves from that perspective can be glorious but all too often short-lived and can leave us trying to recapture that moment. If we do this then we will have wasted the experience and can end up feeling failure each time we don’t get that feeling when we meditate. The wisest response is to feel gratitude for that moment and let go of it, but like all experiences, use it to change how we react in future. I really know now that anxiety will come and go in me, it doesn’t mean anything and I can just let it be. I can rest more in my centre as a result. This creates a greater self-acceptance but also shorter periods of anxiety and definitely less worry, although I still have my moments!