At the core of anxiety – whether health anxiety, death anxiety, relationship anxiety, or generalized anxiety – is the need for safety. As I’ve been writing about in my last few posts, left to our own unguided minds, the ego will latch onto our stories to try to gain a foothold into the ever-changing flow of an uncertain world in an attempt to create safety. This never works. As Einstein famously said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” This means that to try to soothe the anxious mind with a method devised by the anxious mind would be like asking your three-year old to comfort herself without the help of an adult. The mind’s ways of trying to create safety under the delusion of control are not only stemming from a primitive part of our brain – the part that feels the anxiety to begin with – but were actually often developed in childhood or adolescence. They are, quite literally, our inner toddlers and teenagers in the driver’s seat of mind.
In order to break through the mind’s habitual responses to fear, we have to reach for something higher. We have to set our minds in a new direction. We have to strengthen the central column of self, learn effective ways to release worry on a daily basis, and connect to practices and habits that elevate us instead of descend us further into anxiety. When we do this, we navigate life in a completely different way. As Jack Kornfield writes in A Lamp in the Darkness:
“I remember seeing a poster in a health food store in Santa Cruz in the 1970s of the Hindu guru Swami Satchidananda with his long, flowing beard, standing on one foot in a little orange loincloth in the yogic posture called the tree pose. What was remarkable about this picture was that Swami Satchidananda was balanced in the tree pose on top of a surfboard on a really large wave. Underneath, it said in big letters, ‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.’ The spirit of the practice of equanimity and peace is not that the waves will stop, but that our heart and mind can become so open and balanced, that we can behold the turning of the seasons of the world from a place of stillness.”
What would it be like to ride the waves of life with more grace? Can you imagine what it would feel like to have a stronger core self that would allow you to take some of the waves in stride and come back to center more quickly? These waves can come in many forms: relationship anxiety, work anxiety, health anxiety, fertility anxiety, worry about children, nameless dread, existential depression, transitions both big and small. If you’ve been following my work you know that anxiety plays the game of whack-a-mole: as soon as one external stressor or internal pain gets resolved, another one pops up in its place. These are waves. Our task is to learn to ride them.
How do we do this? The key is in committing to a daily practice. There are so many ways to have a daily practice. Those in the meditation world champion meditation as the path. Those in the religious world espouse the power of prayer. Those in the yoga world swear by the power of yoga. These are all excellent ways of strengthening the central column, but they’re not the only way. When it comes to daily practice, what’s essential is to find the ways that work for you, that speak to your soul, ways that elevate you out of the default fear stories and connect you to daily reminders of something greater. In those reminders, we remember that we are not our stories. Through those practices, we lift ourselves out of the habitual and well-worn grooves of anxiety and reinforce other, healthy neural pathways. Creating and growing this practice is what I’ll be teaching in Grace Through Uncertainty: A 30-Day Course to Become More Comfortable with the Fear of Loss by Falling in Love with Life.
The goal isn’t to eradicate uncertainty; that’s not possible. It’s not even to create more certainty. The goal or path is to become more fluid as we hit bumps in the road, including the bumps that our minds create. This is what it means to have “grace through uncertainty”: through practices that connect us to higher mind and help us tap into the current of positive energy and wisdom that surrounds us, we are naturally able to anchor into a well of well-being. The equation is the same whether we’re talking about relationship anxiety, health anxiety, or any other way that anxiety manifests: grow love and shrink fear, for the more we connect to the energy of love, the less room there is for fear to fester. This is our ultimate task in being human.