I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with social anxiety (all kinds of anxiety, really!) In counseling, I’ve been learning that this anxiety leads me to try to figure out ways to control and manipulate the world around me in order to make myself feel “safe.” As Michael Singer writes in his book The Untethered Soul:
You said to your mind, “I want everyone to like me. I don’t want anyone to speak badly of me. I want everything I say and do to be acceptable and pleasing to everyone. I don’t want anyone to hurt me. I don’t want anything to happen that I don’t like. And I want everything to happen that I do like.” Then you said, “Now, mind, figure out how to make every one of these things a reality, even if you have to think about it day and night.”
And of course your mind said, “I’m on the job. I will work on it constantly.”
But despite its 36 years of experience, my mind has yet to succeed at keeping me from being misunderstood, disliked, unappreciated, unloved, abandoned or hurt. In fact, its attempts at doing so are making me sick, anxious and fearful. It’s ruining my relationships and altogether driving me crazy. Hard to believe, right?
Can you imagine somebody trying to do that? The mind has to try to make it so that everything you say is said the right way, taken the right way, and has the right effect on everybody. It has to make sure that everything you do is interpreted and seen the right way, and that nobody does anything that hurts you. It has to make sure that you get everything you want, and that you don’t ever get what you don’t want. The mind is constantly trying to give you advice about how to make it all okay. That’s why the mind is so active; you gave it an impossible task to do. It’s equivalent to expecting your body to lift trees and scale mountains in a single jump. Your body would get sick if you kept trying to make it do things it was incapable of doing. This is what has broken the psyche. The signs of the body breaking are pain and weakness. The signs of the psyche breaking are underlying fear and incessant neurotic thought.
Today I woke to an absolute flood of terrifying “what if” thoughts. Right away, my mind kicked into high gear, considering all 3,562 ways I was going to fix the world around me to alleviate these fears. But this morning, I did something different. This morning, I had a little sit-down with my mind and said as gently as I could:
“Darling, it’s okay. I know how scared you are and I know you think this will make it all better. It’s okay to feel this way, and it’s okay to want to fix it. I know why you’re doing this, and it’s not your fault. But I just can’t play this game with you. You see, it never helps and eventually makes things worse. If you want to keep thinking about it, that’s okay. I’ll just be sitting over here, watching.”
And then I did just that. I simply watched my mind without participating, listening to it the same way I might listen to my six year old giving me advice on fixing the bathroom sink. I might hear what she has to say, but her words wouldn’t receive the full force of my attention the way they would if a certified plumber were giving me the same information. I essentially told my mind, as gently as I possibly could, “Carry on, dear. But I won’t be taking any of your advice.” And after just a few moments, I physically felt my mind quiet down. My entire body relaxed and the thoughts just disappeared.
You can have a different relationship with your mind. Whenever it starts up telling you what you should and shouldn’t do in order to get the world to match your preconceived concepts, don’t listen… When your mind starts telling you what you have to do to make everything inside okay, don’t buy into what it’s telling you. The truth is, everything will be okay as soon as you are okay with everything. And that’s the only time everything will be okay.