Many of us are susceptible to fearful thoughts during our lives, as well as feelings of dread and anxiety. If you have experienced this it is important you know that you are not different or broken; you are human. Having experienced this himself, Josh Bowler has shared six tips to help you free yourself of fearful thoughts:
“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Here I am, huddled up close to the wood burner, my only source of heat, sitting on an old recliner chair that was given to me, in a rented apartment with windows soaked with condensation. Outside it is cold, wet, and dreary, a typical English winter’s day.
My business folded in July with substantial personal debt and I turned forty-four in August.
Perhaps not the most heart-warming start to a post, but rather some raw facts of how my life is now, not x number of years ago before I turned my life around, but now! I’m pretty sure I am not alone in this situation I find myself.
In July when I folded my never very successful business resulting in substantial personal debt, the first thing I did was completely freak out—panic attacks, endless anxiety, depressive thoughts, the whole nine yards.
I went to my doctor who gave me anti-anxiety medication without a second thought. I tried them for a couple of months, but I had been down that route before and this time I felt that it was not the solution to my problems. So after consulting with the doc I carefully weaned myself off of them.
What I needed was answers as to what was causing me so much pain inside rather than a Band-Aid to cover it. I needed to find out why I seemed to have spent my entire life under a shadow, a shadow from which I never felt comfortable emerging to engage fully with the world for fear of being seen.
Enter Tiny Buddha. I found Tiny Buddha by chance while endlessly searching for answers as to what was broken in me. What I discovered after reading hundreds of posts was a revelation: I am not broken.
After digging deeper, I began to realize that I was locked in a trance most of the time, a trance created by my egoic mind. A trance shaped by fear during my formative years. My psyche was trying to protect me from the fear and lack of safety I felt when growing up; it was trying to keep me safe.
My childhood interpretation of the events I experienced, combined with non-compassionate and non-understanding authority figures, led my psyche to decide that the best way to deal with life was to retreat to a place of safety and hide, to not get involved or be exposed in any way.
It met any situation or event that it interpreted as fearful with vigorous resistance.
As most things in life contain some element of fear and anticipation, especially new things, my egoic mind trance was active most of the time, constantly in the background, ready to come to my rescue at the slightest whiff of perceived danger.
The irony is that my mind’s way of “rescuing” me was to paralyze me with feelings of dread, worry, and anxiety, coupled with the physical feelings associated with panic.
It’s not easy when your egoic mind has spent the greater part of your life trying to convince you that it is the only place where you are safe.
Over the years the egoic mind has plenty of time to really go to town building a devilishly intricate trance machine that becomes deeply entrenched in the psyche. Mine was so entrenched that I thought it was me. Until recently, that is.
What I am learning from reading many posts on Tiny Buddha, which led me to books, podcasts, and other resources on the subject of the being, is this:
1. We need to realize that we truly are not our thoughts.
Our thoughts come from the egoic mind. We are the awareness that hears the thoughts.
When you talk to yourself inside your mind, to whom are you actually talking? It is your awareness, and that is who you are, that is your being. Not the thoughts.
Your thoughts are just constructs of your egoic mind. You can actually choose to let them float on by without believing or engaging them, should you choose to.
2. Understand it is not your fault that your mind is causing you such pain; it’s a product of evolution.
Back in the days of caves and things with sharp pointy teeth, you were more likely to survive if you were ever vigilant of danger—meaning the genes that favored this behavior were more likely to get passed down… to you.
The egoic mind thinks it is helping you by keeping you safe and trapped inside a trance. It is not its fault, and you have to face your trance thoughts with compassion and love, and be able to forgive yourself. It really isn’t your fault.
3. Use meditation and mindfulness throughout the day; learn to see the space between the real you—which is awareness—and the egoic mind, as its thoughts race by.
Observe thoughts for what they are: just thoughts. Try not to allow yourself to become absorbed in your thoughts and go into trance, but do not punish yourself if you do.
Be kind and compassionate to yourself when you recognize you have drifted away and start fresh in the moment, returning to a state of mindful awareness whenever you can.
4. Identify the trance thoughts and emotions as they arise and name them.
For example, “Oh, this is fear I am feeling, just fear,” or “I feel you dread and worry; it’s okay,” or “Hello shame and unworthiness; I see you.”
This technique of compassionate recognition will reduce the power they have over you, as you have exposed them for what they really are: just thoughts.
5. Remember that it takes perseverance and practice, lots of it.
Another fun thing we inherited from our ancestors is that the fear of something can become embedded in our long-term memory even after a single, brief exposure to it. Conversely, it takes much longer and repeated exposure to positive stimuli before they are committed to long-term memory.
6. Each time you notice yourself in a state of negativity, use it as an opportunity to practice, to mindfully observe your thoughts with acceptance and compassion.
This will allow them to flow through and out of you rather than be kept inside to be constantly recycled.
Do not beat yourself up if you find it difficult to let go of thinking. Be patient and compassionate with yourself. It took you more than a few days to learn to read and write. It will take a little time for you to calm your egoic mind and let your awareness shine through.
This is the path I have begun to walk. I’ve begun to let go of expectations about others and myself; to learn to be compassionate and to love myself; to accept who I am, and where I am in this moment; to try not to judge others or myself. To know that in this moment everything is okay.
And now that my cat is lying on my lap, I guess that means it is time to finish this. Life is all about these moments.
Josh Bowler is a musician, writer and ecologist stepping back on the path he inadvertently left 24 years ago and finding it is all still there just waiting to be seen. He has a blog telluwot.com/complete-being/ and has written a short guidebook on the subject of dealing with anxiety and stress.