My Mindful Week- Day 5: Dealing with Anxiety

Most of the times, if our heads aren’t full of past regrets and embarrassment then it’s filled with anxiety for the future.
What if it rains when I’m out (even if it’s summer and there’s not a lick of cloud visible for miles in the sky)?
What if I can’t find a job upon graduation and will have to resort to be a solo goat farmer in the rural southeastern part of the country?
What if my significant other cheats and breaks my heart in two months?
What if I fail this semester? (legit fear though)
What if, what if, what if?

We like to think that we’re being rational and preparing the best for the future, but think about it. Have you ever been able to be a hundred percent prepared for the future?

*cricket sounds*

I thought so.
It’s very unlikely you are going to be able to foresee the future and its surrounding situation and make plans to perfectly resolve those issues successfully.
Apart from these general life anxieties, we are also anxious about our death and ill-health from time to time. While of course, thinking and planning for the future is obviously a good thing, if you just spend your time unproductively wallowing in the negative emotions such as fear and anxiety that your predictions generate, then you might need to change because those doomsdays? They are not happening right at this moment.
Since right here right now is the only reality, your fear and anxiety in the projected future are just that, a projection. Why waste perfectly good minutes of a real life over some fantasy apocalypse in the future that might not even happen? What will your life be if you spend every single minute of it worrying about the next minute? Probably not a lot, I dare say.

While the silliness of being anxious of the future is easily grasped by the head, it’s harder for us to feel and realize it in our hearts of hearts. It took me years to finally curb my worries a little and I’m pretty sure this is far from the last level of not-giving-a-shit, but I hope these methods of mindfulness will help you lessen your fear for the future, too:

  1. Think of yourself as a team, made up of millions of selves, each one designed to deal with just one second of your life as a whole. If the issue is not happening right in this second, then it’s not your present-self’s business to fret over it. Just take care of the moment handed to you. If and when the issue is going to happen, your future selves will deal with it. Have faith in your future self. I mean, your past selves have survived 100% of their conquest; you are surviving right now; and you will survive in the future.
  2. As always, when anxiety comes up, please do not judge yourself. Just acknowledge to yourself, “I am feeling anxious right now.” Remember that you are not your feelings. You are your actions. When you are aware of your feelings as they bubble up, you have a greater power in choosing to act on them or not.
    When negative feelings come up, just acknowledge them and let them pass. You’re a sky and negative emotions are just clouds passing by. Some days, the clouds are so thick and numerous that you think you might never see the blue sky again, but it’s still there, underneath all the clouds, you’re still there.
  3. When dealing with the fear of ill-health or death, it’s best to just accept the reality. No matter how scared you are of them, they will come; oh, they will come. Spend some time just breathing in and out and imagine your body slowly becoming weaker. Your knees can no longer support your fragile frame and they buckle under the weight of your own waste. One day, your arms will not be strong as they are now, and you will also have difficulty recalling your pet’s names. And then, all the lights will go out and you will cease to exist in this world, at least not as the you right now. It’s best to just get comfortable with the image of your body, dead cold, laying beneath the earth, rotting for eternity because that’s definitely going to happen (unless you, like me, have plans to get your cremated ash launched into space. No? Just me?). Running away from it will only generate more fear. You have to accept it’s a given reality and instead of fretting that it will come (which it will), focus on making everyday of your life counts because it’s counting, oh, it’s counting. After you die, only the effects you have on the world remains: how soft you loved the people and things around you, and how gently you treaded the earth. Your physical body will be gone, but you can make sure you have a positive impact on the world long after you’re dead by being kind, and doing stuff that matters. It’s comforting (to me, at least), to realize that in the long run, nothing that I’m doing will matter except for how much I’ve loved. It helps to practice saying Thich Nhat Hanh’s mantras about death while breathing in and out to accept the reality of death:
    1. Breathing in, say “I am of the nature to grow old.” Breathing out, repeat, “I cannot escape growing old.”
    2. Breathing in, say, “I am of the nature to have ill health.” Breathing out, “I cannot escape ill health.”
    3. Breathing in, say, “I am of the nature of die.” Breathing out, “I cannot escape death.”
    4. Breathing in, repeat, “All that is dear to me, and everyone I love, are of the nature to change.” Breathing out, “There is no way to escape being separated from them.”
    5. Breathing in, say, “I inherit the results of my acts of body, speech and mind.” Breathing out, say, “My actions are my continuation.”

These mantras sound extremely simple, I know, but once you let it sip into your subconscious and really know them, you can let go of pretty much any fear that you can think of.

 

My Mindful Week- Day 3: Dealing with Social Validation

You don’t want to be doing this, really, you don’t, but your finger itches and you’ve gotta snap that yummy home-made lunch of yours and post it to Instagram before it’s ruined. It’s great day, gathering up with your close mates, and you feel like you’ve gotta show everyone how great your hang out has been.

Where does this need for social validation come from? The need for others to perceive us as cool, hip, or simply good? These attempts don’t just happen in social media (although God knows it’s compounded in this platform), but it happens in our social life as well.

We fret over our outfit before going to a social event.

We spend hours putting together a cool outfit just to change our minds at the last second for fear of being judged.

Sometimes, we overshare too much of our achievements and accomplishments in a first meeting out of insecurity.

We buy that 5-thousand-dollar bike to impress our biking group members even though we’re pretty sure our old bike did just fine to our liking.

You know, the fear of being judged, the need to impress, to boast, these all stem from our need to be socially validated, to be patted on the head for conforming to a certain norm in a certain group.

And before you get all toasty and claim you’re a hipster who follows no rules, let me make it clear. It doesn’t have to be a norm that the majority follows. Whether you admit it or not, we all do this, but maybe with different groups. Even the hipsters who claim to follow no rules actually follow the rules of hipsters. (flashback to all the hipster mustache, glasses and boots).

Yup. I do it. You do it. We all do it. It’s just in our nature to want to belong to a certain group of people, and it’s useless to claim otherwise. However, it’s helpful to be aware of just which of our activities are being influenced by this need and whether we really truly want to do it or not.

Mindfulness can come in handy and here’s how I’ve used it to weed out the activities I truly enjoy and those that I do to just seem as cool:

  1. Look deep into the nature of the need for social validation. The thing is when you look deep enough into any negative emotions, it usually comes from fear. And when you zoom in enough into your fears, it all comes down to two major fears that every mortal have: a/ the fear of dying and b/ the fear of being alone. Actually, the second major fear, I think, also stems from the first major fear. When you are alone with no one to help you, your chance of surviving is likely diminished, so that’s why humans have this need to fit in, to belong to a group. As you look deep into that fear, continue to breathe in and out and just acknowledge that fear inside you.
  2. Look deep into each action and the group you’re trying to seek validation from. Don’t judge yourself for this. Just look. For example, I, myself had doubts about my enjoyment of painting. I was not sure if whether I did it to appear cool, or I was genuinely enjoying it for the sake of creating. Turns out, most of my works up to that point had been done for the sake of getting them likes on my social media, and that i only wanted validation from my social media followers.
  3. It’s very important to not judge yourself as an attention seeking whore. You have to remember being mindful is all about non-judgmental awareness. If your thoughts are caught up in judgment, don’t judge yourself for that either. Gently nudge your thoughts back to the base of your breathing and continue to acknowledge your emotions and the reasons behind.
  4. Now it’s time for action: you should at this point, find out how needing validation from certain groups (family, friends, neighbours, classmates, strangers on the internet) have driven you to commit certain actions. It’s time for you to decide if that validation is worth having, and to decide whether you want to continue that action or not. With regard to the above painting example, after finding out that I was doing it mostly for the likes, I took a break. Instagram likes were simply not worth the frustration and hair loss from all the hair-pulling of producing each piece of work and the likes would always become meaningless after a few days anyway.
    But something strange happened, after a few months of not painting, I found myself drawn back to the freshness of paint, to the softness of brushes. But this time? This time, as I pick my brush and dab it into the swirling green palette, I know I’m doing it out of pure enjoyment, out of the pure need to record my thoughts in brush strokes instead of a few hollas from internet strangers and painting has never been more liberating. I know it’s hard, especially if you grow up in Cambodia where you’re taught from day-one to seek for social validation. To be honest, I’m still in the process of weeding out the validation-motivated actions and the love-motivated ones. It’s a long and excruciating process and one worth your time because if not, whose life are you going to lead? If you want it to be yours, it makes sense to do what you really enjoy!

This is part of the My Mindful Week series. Read why it’s important here, day 1 here, and day 2 here.

Rusting and Stalling

There’s a Chinese folk story that goes like this:

Once upon a time, there were two brothers who decided to take up the job of cutting and collecting firewoods for their ageing father. The big brother woke up early in the morning, got his knife and went up to the mountain for a day of extremely hard work. As for the younger brother, because he saw how rusty the knives were, he decided to spend the morning sharpen his knife instead. At the end, the big brother spent the whole day exhausting himself for just a pile of firewood whereas the clever younger brother spent only an afternoon with his newly sharpened knife and got twice the amount of firewood.

This story’s lesson surely isn’t subtle. It’s about working smart, rather than working hard. However, many people (including me) fall into the pitfall of waiting. For fear of being the dumb bother who toiled away with a rusty knife, we tend to wait; we wait until we think we have the perfect information to make a decision; we stall until we think we’ve perfected the plan with a backup plan-b, plan-c and plan-d in hand before we dare to take on a project. Of course, it’s great to plan before you do anything, but at one point, you’ve gotta stop planning, and start doing.

We will never have the perfect information for something, and we sure won’t be able to prepare ourselves for every possible scenario because the future’s a bitch, but that’s okay. Sometimes, you just gotta start with what you have, and learn to adapt along the way.

Don’t be ashamed to be the dumb big brother. The good thing about this is that the story does not have to end here. The big brother can also have a happy ending. He can learn to sharpen his knife from his younger brother the second day, and voila, he’ll also collect four piles of firewoods when the golden sunset hits his perspiring head the next day!

The point is stop waiting. Start your project with whatever you have now, and learn along the way. Take that rusty knife of yours out and cut that bitch of project down!