The Well of Being

IMG_3985When I was getting ready to leave yesterday morning for a family gathering, the term “well-being” popped into my head. It’s a term we hear a lot these days, especially if we frequent websites that promote a healthy lifestyle. And I thought, “Well-being. A well of being. Well-being means that you’re able to access a well of being inside of you.”

There may be no medicine more effective to neutralize anxiety than accessing your own well of being. What is a well of being? A well of being is a quiet place inside of you, a resting space where you can audibly hear the noise quieting and physically feel your soul relax. It’s your own private retreat that’s accessible and free. It’s what the Buddhists call “refuge”, often in reference to our tendency to seek comfort in fleeting external objects and conditions instead of the sustainable inner realm. It’s a well whose waters are filled by nourishing acts of non-doing.

Doing nothing? Isn’t that antithetical to everything our culture espouses as keys to happiness? Our culture says, “Achieve! Succeed! Make money! Create! Stay busy! Have lots of friends! Rise the ranks! Climb the ladder! Go go GO!” While there’s nothing wrong with some of these goals, when we adhere to the “doing” mentality to the exclusion of cultivating a well of being we quickly establish a cesspool of soul for anxiety to take hold.

Learning to be in a state of being is an art and a skill that takes time to cultivate. And, from what I hear from my clients in their 20s, it seems to be a nearly lost art and skill for their generation. For there are so many ways to fill the time and space these days, endless distractions that draw you away with magnetic pull from your inner world. Anything you do that externalizes your Self (self with a big S, which means your true self, your soul, your rudder) depletes the waters of your well-being. This includes: spending time on computers with the intention of avoiding yourself and real connection with live people; watching too many mindless movies; staying busy with completing tasks on your endless to-do lists; giving in to the cravings of addictions (including the mental addictions of ruminating, obsessing, and worrying); etc.

I will say that we all spend time engaging in acts that externalize Self, and, in balance, some of these actions are essential to a different kind of well-being. But when the external far outweighs the internal, or the external isn’t balanced on a weekly and even daily basis by real time spent inward in nourishing ways, it begins to take a toll. Thus, it takes a strong commitment, an iron-clad decision, to learn how to turn off screens and other forms of externalization and turn toward the quieter, slower ways.

The way to grow your well of being is exactly as the terms suggests: you learn to cultivate a relationship toย being. Being is non-doing but it’s beyond non-doing. We could say that you’re “doing nothing” when you’re stretched out on the couch or bed watching television. And while this may help you unwind after a long day, it doesn’t fill the well with nourishing waters. For most people, watching TV or surfing the Internet are not simply acts of unwinding but ways to distract and avoid the inner world.

Being is a quiet, still, often solitary place without distractions. It’s a feminine energy (keeping in mind that feminine and masculine energy have nothing to do with being a woman or a man; they’re energies that both sexes carry). It’s reflective and inward, qualities inhabited by the night, the moon, the ocean, darkness. It’s slow, compassionate, soft, curious and without agenda. It’s slower than slow, in fact; it’s timeless. It’s everything our modern world and our modern self are lacking.

In order to create a well of being, we need daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly retreats. Some people call these windows of inwardness a Sabbath or a day of rest, which is the original intention of a weekend. But even when the “time off” is built into a week, most people use that time to turn their attention outward: fix, checklist, shop, watch, accomplish, busy, talking, loud. ย Nothing wrong with this, pleasant even, but they do not fill the well.

Rabbi David Cooper writes in Renewing Your Soul, “Modern civilization suffers from a chronic condition of anemic, starving souls. The sages teach us that if we feed our souls, we will experience a new kind of happiness and more meaning in life. They say we will see nature more clearly and a new world of inner peace will open. Renew the soul and one’s perspective of daily life will completely change. It is simply a matter of taking time, slowing down, shifting mundane consciousness into realms of higher insight, giving oneself the gift of reflection and contemplation.” (p. 7)

I can hear my anxious clients and readers piping up: “But how? When I slow down I feel more anxious. My mind won’t stop and I end up spiraling down the rabbit hole of anxiety.” Yes, when you’re filled with anxiety it will take longer to learn to turn inward and find a place of stillness. I’m not saying any of this is easy; in fact, when Rabbi Cooper says above, “It’s simply a matter of taking time, slowing down…” I wonder if he’s talking about the highly anxious mind. My soul-sister and colleague, Carrie, who has a devoted meditation practice, agrees that the highly anxious cannot start with meditation, at least not sitting meditation.

But you must start somewhere, and I recommend you start with unplugging. I recommend taking a 30-day Facebook fast and using that time to get into nature. You may not be able to sit in stillness in nature at first; the busyness of your mind may be too uncomfortable. But allow nature to neutralize the anxiety. Wade into a natural body of water if that’s accessible to you. Pray to the energy of the natural world to help you find your way back to Self. Listen to your body. Meet a friend in the flesh and walk quietly together. Get outside as much as possible into the most wild natural space you can find. If your mind is still too busy, listen to an inspiring audiobook from one of the dozens of modern sages that are readily available to us today (anything from Soundstrue.com will help you turn inward). Be patient. Commit to learning and pouring your attention into your well of Self. What matters most is that you set your intention to develop this new practice. Your intention will lead the way.

27 comments to The Well of Being

  • Devon

    I needed this today. Life gets so crazy and I was just starting to well up in stress and a touch of the anxiety I had worked pretty hard to diffuse last year. This is what I needed to hear- to get outside and take time to be. Thank you Sheryl!

  • Sharan

    Love the concept “well of being!” I’ve just deleted facebook…let’s see how this challenge goes!

    From everything i’ve learnt from you and the forum… It is to live life in a way that YOU want. Not how you think you should. That includes feeling all of your feelings and observing yourself rather than making changes or doing things to change your feelings. Like you said so well…being instead of doing. ๐Ÿ™‚ x

  • Liz

    Definitely a much-needed post today! My husband leaves for work for 6 weeks this Thursday – an annual thing. Every year I feel the need to fill this time with tasks, projects, things I never got to doing in the past few months. What I realize I really need to do is feed my soul. I feel anxious sometimes throughout most of the year knowing my husband is going away for a few weeks, and it makes me sad, anxious, lonely. Perhaps if I start to use this time he’s away to just focus on myself, it will become something more of what I look forward to instead of fear. Thanks, Sheryl!

    • Yes, it’s so common to fill up with the endless to-do list. It’s quite common for teachers when they reach the end of the school year to fill up their summer months with tasks and projects instead of taking the time to turn inward and replenish the well.

  • Ashley Chapman

    Hello,

    Do you know how long the wait time is for counseling? I believe I am on your waiting list.

  • Jennifer Nangle

    Thank you Sheryl…this advice comes at a perfect time – AS ALWAYS:-)! Much love – Jen

  • onedayatatime

    Today I find myself in a lighter mood, happier, less anxious, seeing things more positively. Thoughts are still swirling around up there including about why I don’t feel anxious or when I will start to worry next. Almost as if I feel like I am doing something wrong and actually missing something, just fooling myself right now. I am left not knowing which parts of myself or which feelings to trust. With what you have written about I have a question. Is it okay to actually flow with this energy but then use it to do activities that fill my well being, like going for a walk? I chose to do a little shopping today, which brightens my mood of course, but I didn’t need to. However, when I am in these moods and state of minds I often want (and feel the need) to do stuff and get things done because often I don’t even feel like getting out of bed or inspired to do anything. Again, is it okay though for me to flow with this energy and do things but start to be mindful of how many of my activities are nurturing and inward loving rather then outward energy like shopping? I think I have associated meditation and looking inward as painful and anxiety provoking so I avoid it when I feel like this today. So maybe I need to shift my expectation to the neutralizing activities you said like walking and audiobooks and yoga.

  • Lalalove

    Another one of my favorite favorites. This is everything in a nutshell if you ask me. I’m so glad you are alive and doing the work that you are doing!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • sonakshi

    Wow Sheryl this article is beautiful!I feel so blessed to have found your website and your work!I really want to thank you for the amazing work you do,of helping people in need.I hope you continue helping people like me in their hard times when they don’t even seem to have a glimmer of hope.I also hope that I will be able to recover from what I am suffering and be happy and peaceful again.Wish me luck!

  • Beautiful post ๐Ÿ™‚
    While reading this post last night I came to a conclusion about my anxiety.
    I notice while I’m reading your article I’d feel at ease then I would start reading the comment down below and some comments would start giving me anxiety again because a lot of them say that even tho they have anxiety they still say that when they look at there partners they feel the love and the joy in their hearts or that their relationship is always 80% good , they feel drawn to their partner ( when I read that I imagine a rope around them and their partner ) ,how lucky they feel all the time etc … And it hit me that I’m getting jealous of these people and that I’m still thinking of the fake love and thinking that my partner is suppose to be the source of my happiness and when I don’t feel happy it’s his fault , but it’s not ! I’m suppose to make myself happy and share my happiness with him , and also I need to learn that it’s okay to be bored when we talk sometimes it’s okay not to be excited when he calls now and not getting excited when he texts me too , it’s okay to feel disconnected while you have a long distance relationship , it’s okay that my relationship is sometimes at 80% and sometimes lower and changes everyday even during the day sometimes .i need to remind my self that I may not ‘actually feel the joy rushing to my heart or that his love makes my heart warm but he makes me smile when I’m sad he makes me laugh a lot , and we do have some good conversations when we actually have something to talk about , he is a great person and when I do think about it I am very lucky because he cares so much . And I also realized that to me connection is being able to laugh at the same things and being able to not feel out of place when your around your partner even if you two are in separate rooms and just feeling at ease and comfortable and calm ( of course when not anxious ) (I know that all those feelings goes away and comes back and that’s okay too ) I need to stop thinking that a relationship needs to be a certain way and stop getting jealous of people who to me have a perfect relationship because you never know what happens behind closed doors and also a really big thing I need to stop doing is getting freaked out when other people break up or a sad break up song comes on because I start thinking omg maybe that’s for me ( silly) we might not be the perfect couple but we do get along well and I don’t want to ask for anything else , I need to let go of the infatuation cycle of the relation ship and realize that me saying yes I might not be 100% sure of anything but I do want devote myself to learn the love laws with him and that’s what love is to me because I’m choosing to love him despite of what my gut or my anxious Mind tells me . And just keep telling myself that to love is a choice
    I could go on but it’s long enough lol
    I just hope I’m on the right track of learning ? because what I’m saying and writing down is really making me feel better about myself , my relationship , and making my anxious Mind take a breath

  • Oh and you don’t always have to have reasons as to why you love that person sometimes you just know … Just had to add that in lol …
    Please let me know if I’m on the right path to the love laws ๐Ÿ™‚ would be great to hear your (Sheryl) opinion ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Macy

    Jamie, I am happy you are doing better ๐Ÿ™‚ All you have said gives me hope

  • Hahah thanks Macy ๐Ÿ™‚ glad it gives you hope ๐Ÿ™‚
    I just hope I’m on the right path too ๐Ÿ™‚ just have to keep reminding myself that it’s okay

  • Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚ just gotta keep reminding myself that my anxiety is all about me and has nothing to do with him ๐Ÿ™‚ gonna be hard but it’s worth it ๐Ÿ™‚
    I wish you luck too ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Oh just noticed I made a mistake lol I meant you don’t always need a reason to love someone , sometimes you just do ** sorry my bad

  • Oh just noticed I made a mistake lol I meant to say was sometimes you just do * love someone without knowing the reasons

  • Candie

    Jamie that is exactly as it is for me. You move from a place of longing for infatuation to a place of acceptance. When you are at that place you are more likely to feel gratitude for your relationship and for me that is the feeling of love. It comes and goes especially when he’s irritating me or we are bickering over who’s turn it is to do the chores but love is what you give. If two people are open to giving then they both experience what I can only describe as overwhelming gratitude for each other and that feeling of love comes but it is based on reality and seeing something so beautiful in somebody else, in the everyday small moments you feel truly blessed. It beats infatuation totally but it comes and goes which too has to be accepted as at first I would try to hold onto it.

  • Jaimie

    Thank. You so much candie ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one going through this type of acceptance ๐Ÿ™‚ I just gotta breath and tell myself loves a choice and that everything will be okay .
    Comments like these really give me hope. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚ I still got alittle bit anxious because I can’t always feel the gratitude but when I think about it and remind myself of my gratituded for my relationship I do start to feel happy and at ease ๐Ÿ™‚ never thought it would be this hard to let go of the infatuation stage

  • The well of being is available for every person. If we could only have learned this in school. If only…
    It’s your birthright to know this place. Do whatever it takes to find this within.

  • Another thing I just learnt is that love is what I believe it should be and not what other people see it as . And to me love is being with someone who makes you laugh , who is there for you when you need them and they listen when your upset ( of course both ways ) also love is being able to be content with that person , by content I mean being happy / sweet / comfortable / choice / nothing extreme / not feeling out of place and yes even boring because after awhile like Sheryl said is that the butterflies , the new excitement , the 100% , the running in fields of flowers screaming I’m in love ! Goes away … Then the real relationship starts and that’s where the anxiety hits and anxiety hit me bad… Then I learnt that everything will be okay , because we put soo much pressure on love and get freaked out when can’t we can’t feel what the movies say what love should feel like. Movies say that you should never argue or be sad or bored and you should always feel infatuated with your partner and they should make you melt every time they touch you , you should be 100% etc but the truth is that yes you will get mad , you will cry , you won’t be infatuated anymore and you will get use to their touch , no you will not be 100% you’ll be in a relationship where the percentage will decently change thru out the days , someday you’ll be at 80% someday you’ll be very much lower and somedays you’ll be very much higher that’s just the way I believe it works because it all just depends on the day because somedays you’ll be mad / sad / anxious somedays you’ll be happy / peaceful / relaxed and somedays it will just change for no reason but it’s okay , yes of course your are going to be bored somedays the reason is because the relation ship isn’t new anymore this can hit you within a few months to a few years but every relation ship is going to get to the point where it’s boring now and your getting use to the person , and feeling disconnect is another part of the relationship where is something that is just going to happen sometimes and it’s something that we all have to deal with. And yes you will have doubts and also you will not always have awesome conversations sometimes they will be good and other times they will be average and sometimes you two just really have nothing to say to eachother . I also have read a lot of people saying that they can’t feel their love anymore and that was a big deal for me too because I couldnt feel my heart race anymore or skip a beat or even feel the complete over excitement when he made me laugh anymore or the warmth of his love or the I’m so lucky but then I went into my brain and realized you very much get use to those feelings too and just because you don’t feel them doesn’t mean you do not love them (loves a choice not a feeling) because those are fleeting feelings that will come and go and come right back again it’s a never ending circle and yes you will fall out of love and it will be very very hard to stand on the edge and jump into learning what real love is but in the end it’s so much better then leaving a good / loving relationship and also anxiety can can have a big inpaked on those feelings too
    Oh and other anxiety I had was that I thought you and your partner had to be best best friends but then I also realized that it’s okay if you get along well with your partner because again it will change thru out the days , somedays everything will just work out and fall into place you’ll be good friends and other days it wills just be average , also I’d rather stay with my bf even tho sometimes we just get along well together because I love him for who he is not for what I feel … Also you don’t always have to have a reason as to why you love you partner , sometimes you just do , like how you love you family .
    To me love is like loving your family , they will piss you off , make you cry, make you wonder , break you down and biuld you back up , respect you , annoy you , make you laugh , defende you and blame you but they will always love you with or without any reasons
    (I’m not trying to make anyone anxious and I am very sorry if what I said about my family might give you anxiety but this is how me and my family are and what I’ve learnt )

  • And another way I work with my anxiety is that I’ll ask myself those questions that Sheryl said to ask yourself for like do you like spending time together , do you find him interesting etc etc . But I will ask them in a different way because with my anxious mind I can’t say I 100% always like spending time together and that makes me anxious and I start doubting myself , so I’ll ask questions like do you absolutely do not like spending time with him ? , do you never have anything to say to him or talk about ? did you never feel connected to your partner ? etc , I kinda tricks my anxiety and takes it off guard and helps me realize that yes everything is okay and I do love him the real way
    Hope this helps