Do you suffer from anxiety? Do you have a hard time relaxing? Our society is fast-paced and complicated, a perfect recipe for creating anxiety. Many people turn to prescription medication to reduce their anxiety, while others distract themselves from their anxious feelings through smoking, drinking, or by excessive television viewing, video game playing, or staring at their cell phones.
There is, however, another way to deal with anxiety which is far more profound as it is life changing. The method by which I speak of is found in the ancient teachings of Buddhism. Dating back 2,500 years, the teachings of Buddhism are as relevant today as they were back then. Unlike most religions, the teachings of Buddhism have been supported by modern psychology, science, and even quantum physics.
At the most basic level, Buddhism teaches us that everything that we experience, including anxiety, has its origins in the mind. We may tell ourselves that our anxiousness is due to issues in our relationship, our financial situation, or life changes that we are anticipating. Buddhist teachings would say we are projecting our anxious feelings on these things, that they themselves are not the cause of our anxiety.
The following are some Buddhist principles and an explanation of how they relate to the feeling of anxiety:
The Principle of Impermanence
According to Buddhist philosophy, nothing in life is permanent other than life itself. Life is eternal; however, life’s manifestations are impermanent. To say something is impermanent is to say that is susceptible change. All living beings and non-living beings are continually undergoing change. We experience changes in our relationships, in our finances, in our jobs, and in our health. Our thoughts and emotions are in constant flux. Our bodies are constantly changing, and we all will die someday. Even nonliving being, such as rocks, regularly undergo change at the atomic level.
Nothing in life is stable. Anxiety is created when we experience a sense of uncertainty. If someone is feeling anxious, it is because they have bought into the belief that those things that are important to them should not change, that they should remain stable. This is especially true for those areas of life which we have heavily vested it in, such as our relationships, money, or our health. To rely on anything in life is to be doomed to disappointment. How can you depend on anything when change is the nature of all things?
As stated earlier, life itself is eternal; the essence of life is not subject to change. Life is inherent in all of its manifestations. You are a manifestation of life; thus, you experience change. However, the essence of who you are is inseparable from the essence of life. The essence of who you are is changeless.
As life’s essence, your experience of life can be compared to watching a movie. When watching a movie, you experience a rollercoaster ride of thoughts and emotions as the plot unfolds. However, you enjoy the experience because you know it just a movie. You know that nothing that happens in the movie can harm you.
The purpose of Buddhist practice is to connect to that essential aspect of who you are. However, you can do this without becoming Buddhist or making any drastic changes in your life. Learning to meditate in one way as you will learn to discern that who you are is not your thoughts, your emotions, or your body. At the deepest level, who you are is the one that is observing these things, just as you would observe a movie.
There was a time when science viewed the mind and body as being separate aspects of a person. With the advancement of science, an understanding developed that the mind and body are interdependent of each other, which led to the term “the mind-body connection.” Most people understand that the mind and body are not separate from each other, that one influences the other.
Yet, it cannot be argued that there are aspects of the mind and body that seem very different from each other. We can see or touch the body, but who has ever seen or touched a mind? Despite this, we all know that the mind exists. These opposing points of views lead to the question: Are the mind and body really one or are they separate?
Buddhist philosophy has come up with an apt term to address such questions, that term is “Not two.” “Not two,” means that things are not separate from each other, but they cannot be considered one either. Understanding the term “Not two” can be a useful way to change one’s perspective of life and thus reducing anxiety.
Ultimately, anxiety is experienced because we see ourselves as being separate from the world around us. We see ourselves as distinct and separate entities from our environment. When I am driving, I do not confuse myself with my car; the car and I are separate. Similarly, I do not confuse myself with other people as I know myself as a separate entity. It is this sense of separation that creates anxiety in us.
Ways to “Not Two”
We have fallen for an illusion that our sense of happiness or worthiness is based upon things outside of ourselves. Here are some of the thoughts that I am referring to:
- I will be happy when I find a new job.
- I will be happy when I no longer have to live like this.
- I will be happy when my partner starts treating me right.
- I will be happy when I have the amount of money that I want.
What these thoughts have in common is that our sense of happiness is contingent upon something happening in our environment. Because we feel separate from the rest of life, we see ourselves as incomplete without that which we are desiring. What this means is that we are happy when life conforms to our expectations and feel anxious when it falls short of that we expect.
By reflecting on how we are inseparable from the rest of life, we can start to dissolve the illusion of separation. We are “not two” with the rest of life. We may perceive objects or other people as being separate from us, but we are inseparable from them. Quantum physics has proven that there is no actual physical form in this universe. At the most basic level, everything is energy. How can you feel anxious about anything when you are inseparable from all that is?
Learning to meditate is the most potent way of experiencing “not two,” though other ways include:
Practice nonjudgment: Make a commitment that you will not judge anything, including yourself. If you catch yourself judging, do not judge yourself for judging!
Practice acceptance: Practice accepting everything that you experience, whether it is a thought, and emotion, or a situation. To accept things does not mean to have a passive or defeatist attitude. Acceptance means to acknowledge the existence of something in our reality. It means to not resisting anything that enters your life. To resist something means not to accept its existence.
Whenever we resist anything, we create stress within ourselves, which leads to feeling anxious. Allow everything to be as it is. If you have the power to change the situation in a way that does not infringe on the rights of others, then go for it! If the situation is out of your control, then accept the situation as it is and focus on how can improve the situation in a way that benefits all those who are involved. Since everything in this universe is “not two,” your positive focus will change the situation when the moment is right.