According to the medical model, there are a multitude of known causes of anxiety, as well as numerous different manifestations of it. If you are reading this, you might have experienced problems with a phobia, or a panic disorder, or some kind of separation anxiety disorder. Maybe you’ve experienced an obsessive-compulsive disorder, or a post-traumatic stress disorder. Or quite possibly you went to see a medical professional about your issue, and they didn’t know which category of anxiety to put you in, so they labeled your symptoms ‘general anxiety disorder.’
And if you’ve had an experience of anxiety in whichever form, you might find it difficult to understand the cause of it. If we go according to the medical model, the causes of anxiety appear to be as numerous as the manifestations of it:stressful thoughts or situations, genetics, traumatic events, brain chemistry, diet, and the list goes on.
The abundance of opinions and medical terminology around the subject of anxiety is understandably confusing and can be incredibly disheartening to a person who just wants a simple explanation and a simple remedy to their problem.
So how can we solve our anxiety issues, which have so many possible causes and different manifestations and symptoms?
In my experience, medical professionals have scant knowledge of the human psyche and brain, and the inner workings of the human body in general. They are trained to categorize symptoms and recommend medications based on those symptoms, that only serve to mask your problem – whatever psychic malady you’re going through. So if you go to a medical doctor or psychiatrist for help with anxiety, they usually say, ‘ok, it seems you have this – here, take this.’ And they hand you a medication prescription. The problem is, the majority of the time they don’t really know what ‘this’ is, or how to effectively treat it.
The medication they gave you may be a viable option for treating your anxiety symptoms temporarily, but in the long run it will not fix your issue and may even make it worse.
The point is, if you have an anxiety problem, you need to address the root cause of it if you want to make lasting changes for yourself.
So Why Does Anxiety Have to Be So Complicated?
My question to all people concerned with finding a solution to anxiety is this: why does it have to be such a complicated problem? Why can’t it be simple? Is it possible to narrow it down to just one cause of all symptoms of anxiety, and one treatment that everyone can do? Is there something we can do besides spending thousands of dollars on medications that, in the end, only just cover up the problem and never address the core issue? Is there some other solution aside from spending years in psychotherapy or counseling that may not even help with anxiety in the end? Is there something we can do right now, that is straightforward and easy, that really works, and that doesn’t cost hundreds or thousands of dollars?
The Problem and Remedy Are Simple
My answer to those questions is a resounding YES. There IS only one principal cause of anxiety, and I believe there is a very simple solution to it – and low and behold, it actually works.
My experience and training in Buddhist meditation and Eastern psychology for the last 20 years has lead me to this very simple yet profound conviction: The problem, or cause, of any form of anxiety is our thinking mind. It is the human development of imaginative thought projection: you have an experience, and your mind records it; if it was a negative or life-threatening experience, you are prone to projecting your memory of that experience into a future scenario in your mind.
We all have this very natural and useful mechanism in order to help us survive (fight or flight), as well as to evolve on many levels of our physical and nonphysical being. We are self-aware beings, to an extent, and so have the appearance of having the power of choice, as well as having this ability to project thoughts, to create with our minds.
The problem with this mechanism is that it’s a lot like fire. We often don’t know how to use it without hurting ourselves: we see a thought and we attach to it as if it were the absolute truth; we then unwittingly go off on a tangent about this or that, getting carried off somewhere we never intended to go, feeling fearful of some kind of future-related scenario that has yet to ever happen, that expands and expands until it becomes an insurmountable mountain of fiery terror – in other words, a very serious anxiety problem.
Imagination and Anxiety
Our imaginations are incredible that they can do this, and also extremely dangerous. And yet, if we become privy to this process – if we are somehow convinced that the thoughts we’re so powerfully projecting are mere thoughts – that they’re not true (meaning certain, or even probable), then they lose that power over us instantaneously. Put simply, if we know that things rarely ever pan out the way we think they will, then it’s much easier to relax and go on about our day, enjoying ourselves and letting things happen – letting the pieces fall where they may.
And if we discover that control over our present reality is an illusion, an appearance – that we are not, in fact, in control of the outcomes of our actions – then it becomes very easy to just let things be as they are. We can let go of worrying about future circumstances that are not within our power to control anyway. But this requires a visceral kind of knowledge, and perhaps a bit of meditation and Self-inquiry.
An Anxious Scenario
In a pandemic situation like the Covid-19 situation we’re in now, you could be locked in your home having bouts of some type of anxiety – from watching the news on T.V. or on your computer and thinking about the possibilities of future events presented by that. You might just feel anxious for a few days, and then because you read an article about anxiety on a blog, you realize that the anxiety you’re experiencing is caused by the negative ideas you put into your mind. So you decide to stop watching the news, and for the most part it goes away. You realized the anxious feelings came from negative thoughts that were running laps in your head – which came from watching pessimistic and fatalistic mental input, a.k.a., the ‘news.’
(A general rule to go by is: what you put into your mind will eventually come out. The thoughts we install in our heads affect how our lives play out – not just how we react to situations, but the manner in which we go about our day, the tone of our experience. Watching the ‘news’ may be an important part of your day. But if so, ask yourself if solving your anxiety issue is not more important.)
Moreover, you realize, after reading about how the thinking mind causes anxiety, you decide to take up a meditation practice. For half an hour or more a day, you sit comfortably with your back straight in a quiet room or in a park down the street. You focus your attention on the body, and merge with the sense of beingness and wholeness that you feel while placing your attention there. Within a few weeks you realize that your day to day default way of being has shifted. You are beginning to become more centered, more aligned with a deeper sense of yourself. You feel more peaceful, and when thoughts come and go in the mind, you don’t get caught up in them as much as you used to.
One day you find yourself thinking, remembering when you used to have so much stress, so much anxiety. But somehow those days have faded, and you’re not really affected by it anymore. You are like a new person, much freer than before, much more flexible and open to possibility. Much more alive.
A Method for Killing Your Anxiety
The methods I use for treating anxiety in my coaching and teaching are highly effective, and give immediate as well as long-term results. They are meditations, creative practices, and also art-as-meditation practices.
As the basis for these practices, I use a very simple method for getting into creative Flow. The creative Flow state is a panacea for any kind of anxiety, and many other negative conditions we experience, such as depression or other negative emotional states. It works because, as we move into Flow, we automatically move out of the thinking-mind / monkey-mind mode, which is the fundamental cause of all anxiety. As well, being in Flow effectively releases dopamine in the brain, which is a natural antidepressant and has the effect of temporarily soothing your nerves and helping you feel more relaxed and generally at peace.
How to Trigger Flow
Triggering our Flow is remarkably simple and easy to practice, even without having a creative practice. However using a creative practice to achieve Flow works better for most people, for a few reasons – especially because it’s fun to do, and so makes the process that much easier and more repeatable. (For more information on Courses on using a creative practice to treat anxiety, go here.)
With any practice, it may take some time to adapt to being in the Flow state, but when you practice, you will see results. And the more you do it, the more positive and blissful the results will be.
The Ground of Being Meditation
This practice is the basis for all of my courses on creative Flow.
Sit in a quiet room with your back straight, or lying down if you’re able to stay awake. Take a deep breath and release it while letting go of any tension in the body.
Close your eyes and feel your whole body at once. Feel the wholeness, the completeness of the body being wrapped in your awareness.
Notice thoughts as they come up, and gently let them go, and go back to feeling the body.
Stay there for 5 – 10 minutes, or as long as you like.
Practice in the morning before getting out of bed, and you can also practice this for 20 – 30 seconds at a time throughout your day, whenever you remember it. (15 times a day for 30 seconds would be very good)
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t do this practice while driving a car or operating heavy machinery. Make sure you are safely sitting, wherever you choose to practice.
If you do this practice once you may see immediate benefits. But the real benefits come from repetition. It has a cumulative effect, so when you keep up a regular daily practice, getting better and better at doing it, it will in turn become easier and feel better and better. Eventually it will become very blissful, and you won’t have to try too hard to practice. It will just happen automatically, when you’re standing in line at the grocery store, or when you’re sitting in your car waiting for someone to come out of the grocery store. When you get really good at it, you can stay in Flow while walking around inside the grocery store, and you will see things you’ve never seen before in a grocery store. You will have a whole new, completely fresh experience of the grocery store.
Try this Meditation with a Creative Practice
Use this meditation before starting any creative project – drawing, music, dance, or whatever you like to do, and it will enhance its anxiety-killing abilities. It will get you into your Flow much faster, and it will help you maintain it without getting caught up in thoughts about the end product that you’re working to create, or other thoughts that may come up.