Seeing Impermanence to overcome anxiety

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.

Dan Gilbert

These words of a psychologist point out the fundamental mistakes we make when it comes to who and what we are. Anxiety, depression, low self-esteem: We think these are features that define who we are, and there is nothing we can do about it.

Anxiety and fear come from a genuine but misguided belief that we are flawed, something I have felt for a long time. With that belief, we fail to change because we think our flaw is an irrevocable part of who we are. With such a damming indictment of ourselves, the anxiety and fear are never challenged, never examined, and therefore can never be addressed, so the cycle continues.

This fixed sense of ‘the self’, a separate essence or spirit that makes us who we are, is the basis of our suffering.
We need to see, just as I did, that this idea needs to die. My journey is learning that I was wrong about myself and who I thought I was. I had to learn that there is no me, no fixed ‘I’, just the story I tell myself, which I could also change.

All of which makes a point. Who we think we are is not based upon facts but a story, a narrative we tell to ourselves about ourselves. That story of worthlessness, self-pity and weakness needs to change because it’s false. To overcome anxiety, it has to be about addressing the illusions and falsehoods that occupy our minds. How we think and feel about ourselves and the world.

Once seen, these illusions don’t have quite the same hold over us as they once did. They still have power; in challenging moments, the old narratives come out. But we challenge those beliefs/narrative, and rewrite it bit by bit so our mental habits are more accurate and empowering. 

All this is the Buddhist ideas of ‘Non-self’ (Anatman in Sanskrit) and Impermanence (Anitya).

To exist is to say it’s ‘ongoing’, like a storm or a cloud. A storm exists when the right wind, humidity, temperature, and other factors form the thunderclouds. There is no single feature or essence of a storm that makes the storm.

But change is difficult because we tend to resist it, sticking with what’s familiar. The old ways, ideas, lifestyle, relationships, and possession gives us certainty and safety.
It doesn’t take much observation to know that our world is in perpetual flux. Nothing lasts, which scares us because we can’t find anything to hold onto.
We make the mistake of thinking that to exist is to have some intrinsic unchanging feature that defines the object, ideas, and person.

That all things have no essence or unchanging soul. Everything, including ourselves, is changing. It’s one of the most significant steps to move from our fear-induced stagnation towards change and growth.

Verbing the world

‘You are a verb that’s things itself a noun.’

The cosmos is a process, and so are you. To put it differently, think of everything not as a noun, a name, but as a verb.

The cosmos is ‘starring’ right now, some of those stars are ‘planeting’, on one of the planetings, we know it’s ‘peopling’ right now, and one of those ‘peoplings’ is Richard ‘Collisoning’. 

The sky ‘storms’, plants are ‘flowering’, they don’t ‘have flowers‘, they are the flowers. You don’t have thoughts, you are your thoughts. The ocean is the same. The ocean ‘waves’. (The ocean is in the process of waves). The ocean does not ‘have’ waves, it is the waves.

So, everything is temporary, in a state of change. From individual atoms through cells, ideas, language, people, places, plants, objects, and whole ecosystems, civilisations are formed and die throughout the cycle of birth and death.

To overcome anxiety, we have to see reality clearly, and a fixed, separate self is a false, misleading notion that creates other false beliefs.

The illusion of the ego or separate self can’t easily be seen as an illusion. Illusions conceal themselves, and the feeling of separation can be powerful, preventing us from seeing the illusion for what it is. When faced with change, we grasp safety, security, and fixed anchor; knowing who we are is one way of finding it. 

To overcome our anxiety is to accept that it’s OK to feel what you feel: fear, doubt, uncertainty, that you are spinning in ‘motion’. Once you see and accept reality for what it is, happiness becomes more accessible. Because now we’re operating with a clearer understanding of how the game (of life) works. Instead of chopping wood against the grain, we chop with the grain.

Such insights are liberating and transformative like all good journeys of enlightenment are.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay.

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