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 our fundamental mistake 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. 

However anxiety and fear come from a genuine through the misguided belief that we are flawed. 

With that belief, we fail to try and change because we think it’s an irrevocable part of who we are. 

With such a damming indictment of ourselves 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 me learning that I was wrong about myself and who I thought I was. I had to learn that there is not me 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 is what needs to change because it’s false.

To overcome anxiety it has to be about addressing the illusions and falsehood that occupy our mind. 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 tough moments the old narratives come out. 

  • ‘I’m no good at this’
  • ‘Up never amount to anything’
  • ‘I’m unlovable and desire for loneliness and death. ‘
  • ‘Good for nothing. ‘

But we challenge those beliefs/narrative, and rewrite it bit by bit so our mental habits are more accurate and empowering. 

This change is difficult because we tend to resist change, stick with what’s familiar. The old ways, ideas, lifestyle, relationships and possession gives us certainty and safety.

(Further still this notion of safety and security is also an illusion that needs to be challenged). 

It doesn’t take much observation to know that the world around us in perpetual flux. Nothing lasts, and that 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, a person.

Change is inevitable, even desirable, but it takes courage to challenge the accepted wisdom, especially about ourselves. 

This is related to the Buddhist terms of ‘No-self’ (Anatman in Sanskrit), and Impermanence (Anitya). That all things have no essence or unchanging soul. Everything including ourselves in under a change. It’s one of the biggest steps we have to take to move from our fear-induced states of stagnation.

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 come together to form the thunder clouds. There is no single feature or essence of a storm that makes the storm. In Mahayana Buddhism, it’s empty (Shunyata.) of essence.

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

This is Process Philosophy, Being as becoming, or the ontology of becoming.  To exist is not a ‘state’ of being but a ‘process’ of being. ‘I’ as a separate self is something that that does not exist

The cosmos is a process, and so are you.

To put in in ‘verbing’ language: the cosmos is ‘starring’ right now, some of those stars are ‘planeting’, on one of the planets, we know it’s ‘peopling’ right now, and one of those ‘peoplings’ is Richard ‘Collisoning’. 

The sky is ‘storming’, 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 ephemeral, in a state of change.From individual atoms, through cells, ideas, language, people, places, plants, objects, whole ecosystems, civilisations formed, and die. throughout the cycle of birth and death.

It’s all a swirling maelstrom, at other times its a gentle breeze, but it’s always in motion.

To overcome anxiety we have to see reality clearly, and a fixed, separate self is a false, misleading notion that creates the other false ideas. Like ‘I can’t change’, ‘I’m doomed to be a failure’.

To this I ask, how did we ever get the ideas that our bodies are fixed and unchanging?

Because the illusion of the ego or separate self can’t see itself as an illusion. Illusions conceal themselves and the feeling of a separate self can be very strong, blinding us from seeing the illusion for what it is.

All this change can be a problem, we have a hard time dealing with uncertainty.When faced with change we grasp for, for safety, security, and fixed identity, knowing who we are is one way of finding it. 

To overcome anxiety is to accept that it’s fine to feel what you feel, fear, doubt, uncertainty, that your spinning, in ‘motion’.

Once you see and accept reality for what it is happiness happiness becomes easier to find. Because now we’re operating with a clear understanding of how the game (of life) works.  Instead of chopping wood against the grain we chop with the grain.

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

Image by skeeze from Pixabay.

Leave a comment