“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.” ― Alan Watts
Worry … thoughts, feelings and sensations that give rise to low-level apprehension or foreboding of something (often) malevolent.
Before you start ruminating on what continues to ail you, consider the source of your worry.
(Bear with me…)
Prima facie, it’s not out there. Yes, you might be worried about a person, situation or something that’s happened in the past (or to come), but the source is always your thoughts, feelings and sensations.
Let me say that again. Most people consider that the source of their worry exists outside them. As a result, they try to organise their external affairs or the situation to ameliorate or banish what’s worrying them. Sometimes it works but nearly always the situation never plays out as expected.
Before asking you to consider a different approach, you might like to reflect that very often the thing that we’re worried about resolves itself. That’s not true. What happens is our thinking changes — mostly it subsides or we focus on something else (to worry about).
Anyhow, perhaps I can invite you to look in a different direction to deal with your worry, namely within.
This direct approach is known as self-enquiry:
“Who am I?”
Normally, people start with their name, their job title, their role and then a whole slew of labels they’ve acquired across the years.
And then, perhaps, they realise that they’re none of these things.
Again, go to the source.
Who are you at the most profound, deepest level?
“I am my thoughts, feelings and sensations.”
Yes, but can you control these? When I say control, do you have any or any meaningful influence over the thoughts that come into your psyche and disappear, the feelings that arise in the moment and/or the sensations (e.g. taste, smell and hearing) that give rise to the feeling of aliveness?
Before you leap to answer those questions, you also need to consider if you’re able to influence or command (as examples) your breathing, the flow and direction of your blood and how your lungs expand and shrink.
I know what you’re thinking. What’s any of this got to do with my worried state of mind?
Everything, I’m afraid.
Let me say this again. What I’m inviting in this post, much like all my writing, is for you to look within. Not because it’s some novel, New Age approach to your existential (or any) angst but instead ‘cos it’s the only place you need look if you’re trying to: (a) work out what’s really going on; and (b) move closer to resolving those things, including worry, that stop you being happy.
So, again, if you look carefully at worry, what you’ll hopefully see is that you’ve got a lot of thinking about one or many issues. Try for a moment to imagine you have this imaginary hand that reaches inside of you to identify the source of your thinking. Yes, you say it’s in the brain but exactly where? Sure, if you look at it scientifically, you’ll be able to identify a portion of your brain that lights up under a fMRI but what science can’t tell you is why you’re having the thoughts you’re having and why someone else, presented with the exact same situation, may or is likely to have very different thinking. Anyhow, if you’re willing to play along with said imaginary hand, what you’ll apprehend is that it’s not possible to switch off or change the thinking — this is very much in the Positive Thinking arena. In fact, it’s not possible to do anything, let alone grasp the thoughts with your imaginary hand.
Ok, back to reality. Ask yourself how you’re aware of your thoughts.
You know you have thoughts or more accurately said you’re aware of your thoughts.
This was my first insight — awareness of my thoughts, feelings and sensations. It came starkly into view upon reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. He describes a ‘witnessing presence’; and I thought, “that’s me”.
This witnessing method is often an approach you’ll hear talked about and applied in meditation circles. The usual metaphor is to see your thoughts etc. as clouds floating by or as a series of moving buses. You’re invited to be the witnessing presence and not, as you might otherwise do, interfere with those imaginary objects.
Self-enquiry invites you to go even further. You know there is a witness presence of the thoughts but, ipso facto, it’s a self-knowing witnessing presence.
Pause for a minute and sit with your thinking.
Ask yourself who or what is it that’s aware of your thinking?
Is it a self-knowing, luminescent awareness? If not, what is it?
In ordinary parlance, it’s the “I am…” part of the statement “I am aware of my thoughts, feelings and sensations.” In other words, you’re aware of being aware.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So far, in addressing the worry conundrum, I’ve invited you to turn the tables on your thinking and look within. I accept that this feels a lot like naval gazing but trust me, the longer you stay fixated on the exterior world, the less likely it is you’ll resolve your worry issues. I appreciate that going within is not always easy but, then again, living in the daily drama is even more painful.
Once you investigate the inner chatter, what you observe is a knowing presence. This observer is not material as in a limited body/mind, but it’s an awareness of your thinking. Even if you went no further, as I’ve already said is the starting point in meditation circles, that’s still a better place to operate, particularly if you’re willing to give up the temptation to understand, change or recalibrate your thinking.
“Everything passes. Nobody gets anything for keeps. And that’s how we’ve got to live.” ― Haruki Murakami
If I’ve an issue with this approach, though, it’s the fact that we may feel that we need a practice — a form of doing/non-doing — whereas in fact, we don’t need to do anything.
“Be — drop becoming.” — Osho
What I’m inviting then is something more radical. I’m inviting you to consider what is it that’s aware of the awareness? It’s awareness that knows about itself — i.e. self-knowing awareness. Of course, that’s woo-woo but only to the limited body-mind self. If you go to your direct experience of your awareness (of your thinking etc.) you’ll easily apprehend that to be aware of anything there has to be something that’s aware of it. It’s the “I” that’s aware — “I am aware…”.
From that space, if you’re willing to sit and do nothing, you might find, as I have, that the insight that arises from the point of view of self-knowing awareness that there’s nothing to do. How could there be? A self-knowing awareness is just aware. Yes there’s worry but it’s all part of the play.
In the final analysis, it’s very difficult to the subject/object mind to appreciate what I’m describing. That’s why those speakers and teachers in the non-dual space revert to using metaphors to illuminate the point. The most common I’ve heard described is the movie screen being the unlimited, knowing awareness and our thoughts, feelings and sensations being the characters that appear and disappear on the screen. In the beginning, we understand that there’s an inviolable, immutable screen but after a while of watching the movie, the screen gets forgotten.
“In other words, in reality, there are not two things—one, the screen and two, the document or image. There is just the screen. Two things (or a multiplicity and diversity of things) only come into apparent existence when their true reality—the screen—is overlooked. Experience is like that. All we know is experience but there is no independent ‘we’ or ‘I’ that knows experience. There is just experience or experiencing. And experiencing is not inherently divided into one part that experiences and another part that is experienced.” ― Rupert Spira, Presence: The Art of Peace and Happiness
Now, back to our worry experience. Imagine now, instead of automatically going to the outer world you were prepared to look within. I’m not saying that you’ll immediately change your relationship to the extant situation but from the place of knowing-awareness, which is quite comfortable with whatever arises, perhaps you’ll be able to relax into the situation at least to the point where you begin to question why it is you keep arguing with reality; namely
Blessings and take care,
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash