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How to send Fear, Anxiety and Worry Packing

Photo: (adapted) Phoenix Comicon

Anxiety, worry and fear are a part of everyday life, particularly in our fast-paced society and the realities of modern globalization. And they don’t help things! So what do we do to loosen the grip that they have on us and those around us?

First we benefit from understanding them better. In the fourth sutta in the Majjhima Nikaya, (Middle-Length Sayings, or discourses), entitled Discourse on Fear and Dread, the Buddha is recorded as saying that fear arises from feelings of ill will, jealousy, mal-intent and the like.  In other words:

  • Fear’s bottom line is a feeling of threat, or – to put it another way – non-support.
  • Anxiety is a feeling that arises built on a sense of lack of connection, and the fear of being unable to connect.
  • Worry then comes on anxiety’s tail, again with a feeling of lack of support, due to the absence of feeling interconnected.

The natural antidote would be those feelings’ opposite: friendliness. Give support to others, and we’ll feel supported, and fear will dissipate.

This sutta also reveals that the Buddha went on to say that wholesome speech, right livelihood and a lack of covetousness help allay fear and anxiety.

These are different ways to describe the early purification stage of the spiritual path. We could say that these are different ways to clarify and live in alignment with our values. Living moment-to-moment in accordance with our own beliefs relieves fear, anxiety and worry – special bonus!

Nevertheless, on some days it feels like, in spite of all our efforts, fear, anxiety and worry won’t go away. Why not?

These feelings are rooted in our ego. Our ego is a tool that nature has developed to help us to navigate, measure, sort and classify the fact of our separation.

The “fact” of our separation? Yes. A feeling of disconnection is inherent in a personal identity. “I” am always separate from anything else, by definition.

So what can we do to feel less separate?

We call these the Five Steps to Beat Feeling Beat … by Fear, Anxiety and Worry. Learn the steps and chachacha!

Five steps to give fear, worry and anxiety the boot

Photo: Keoki Seu

The Five Steps to Beat Feeling Beat by Fear, Anxiety and Worry

  1.  Impermanence: We have to come to terms with the reality that everything is impermanent. Everything is born, and everything dies. Just accepting this simple fact of life, interestingly, makes everything feel more vibrant.
  2. It isn’t personal: All objects of consciousness (sensations, feeling and ideas) emerge from the great ‘storehouse’ consciousness called the alaya in Sanskrit. But our personal mind sees these objects as separate: my feeling, my idea, etc. This is an illusion. In other words: it isn’t personal. Even when it is personal.
  3. Play the game of life: Learning evolves naturally from a combination of play and mistakes. What the child considers a game, the adult considers work. Live life as if it were a game. And remember: a game is only fun if you give it your best.
  4. Find freshness in the routines: Reward comes from what you know – like a career. Careers are important – we must generate income to eat and clothe ourselves.  We also need income to be able to do meditation retreats, support the Triple Gem (the awakened mind, the teaching that gets you there, and the community that supports you to do it) and our families, etc. But remember to explore and discover freshness within the familiar.
  5. Expand your experience: Intelligence gets built from new experiences. Anxiety, worry and fear are all about what went wrong in the past and what might go wrong in the future. So we cling to the possibility of failure and forget to live for the joy of it. Create new experiences that broaden and enrich your day to day.  (See the blog on “Challenges” for more on this topic)

Think Big, Watch the Small.  Think Global, Act Local… and Revolt!

Time and space are ego measurements and so are worry, anxiety and fear. The difference is the scale. Think big, dream large and pay attention to the small quiet moments. Most suffering comes from lack of imagination and hanging on to unfulfilled needs whose time has passed. So see your life as a great adventure, a hero’s journey, and remember that one small step for humankind can be one giant leap for everyone you meet.

Beat fear and anxiety

Photo © P. Ujlaki

And as mentioned, most struggle is because we feel alone and isolated.  This is not your problem. It is the way we’re raised and the current values of capitalism and self-centeredness that try to sell us fantasies and stuff, instead of educating us about how to lead a life worth living.

So revolt! Join in, help out, build together, and as the saying goes, think global, act local. This means not everyone is just like me (or you), and that is a good thing. Get out of the status quo monoculture, and live a life of “Viva las differencencias!”

This post was written by Dharma Teachers Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawasarat. If you are interested in learning more about how Buddhist teachings approached common issues like fear 2000 years ago, check out the upcoming online course on the Theravadin Suttas (Feb 29-March 26, 2016).

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