When 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 to 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. 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.