Life is a balancing act. Islam teaches us: everything in moderation.
We tend to naturally focus on what we do. There’s an element of self-consciousness to it. We try to control ourselves. We try and make ourselves do this more or that more. “I should exercise more regularly,” “I should start eating healthy,” “I need to fix my sleeping habits,” etc. All focused on our actions, what we need to do differently. There’s a sneaky little assumption behind it, maybe an implication, that we do what we do simply because we choose to, and that we choose wrong and we need to change.
Is that true? Do we do what we do simply because we choose to? Are there not forces that push us? That move us? Forces we do not control that influence us and our limitations? Do you not choose to eat because you are hungry? In which case, is eating really a choice? Or is it a compulsion which you surrender to? I think it’s a compulsion we willingly surrender to, not much of a voluntary choice. The choice is to surrender to the hunger. Fortunately, though, we have the freedom to choose what we eat.
When you’re anxious, are you choosing to be anxious? Or is that an adaptive response to some external force which is outside your control? to something that is happening to you?
The anxiety is you fighting, you resisting, you not surrendering to this external force. You try to beat it, you try to win over it.
Same thing when you decide to get a job, quit your job, or start a project. It is an intelligent response to your circumstances which you have awareness of. This is the picture we exist in: Something happens on the outside, we respond to adapt to it.
Fortunately, we don’t have to consider literally every detail of the circumstances we’re in, most of it happens automatically, unconsciously. Very little of it is actually conscious that we do. But the unconscious isn’t perfect, it’s not meant to be so precise. It’s meant to be fast and convenient. It’s meant to give us the space we feel we need. To take some of the load off of us. Within the unconscious’ work, there lies errors. The unconscious may, in fault, decide to resist and fight against something we cannot win against. Because it’s trying to keep it away from you, so you have the space you need to do what you choose to. That leads to a chronic state of tension, anxiety, worry, etc. That’s how you know that something is not right that you need to set straight.
As you notice how anxious you always are, you think you need to relax more. You try and find things to calm the anxiety or something. All the while, you don’t understand where the anxiety is coming from. What, in your outside world, in your circumstances, in your external environment, immediate or past, what in your life is provoking the anxious response? It’s better and more effective to have compassion for your anxiety, understand that it is responding to something in your world which you’re probably not consciously aware of. It’s like an employee who’s handling a problem for you so you can focus on other things. But the employee is not qualified to handle this load. The employee started doing this when the problem came up because you were too busy with more important things. But when things settle down, you need to listen to this employee, and take the load off of them. Ask: “What is the load?” What is going on in your world that makes you anxious? Understand: the anxiety is adaptive. What is it adapting to?
Maybe there’s really nothing in your life that demands your anxiety. Maybe you’re actually completely fine and there’s no reason at all for the anxiety, and it’s not adaptive at all. This happens when the part of you that is anxious hasn’t realized that the circumstances that demanded the anxiety have changed, and the anxiety is not needed anymore. But the employee will not see that on their own, you have to show them.
How do you show them?
You examine your beliefs about the world.
On some level, if you’re anxious, you believe there’s something dangerous and threatening in the world. That’s a belief you hold in some form. If you think you’re actually perfectly safe, then it’s time to challenge that deeply-held belief. Look to the outside world, and ask: Is the world dangerous? Is there something threatening me? Is there something that wants to hurt me? Am I safe, or is there a beast lurking waiting to strike at me?
You don’t change your anxiety by changing the anxiety. The anxiety is a part of you that’s chronically scared. If you think you’re safe, listen to the anxious part of you about what it thinks is dangerous, and look out for it. Go out there and see if the threat is real or not. Be serious about it, don’t dismiss what the anxiety tells you. At the very least, it was once true. You have to be a scientist about it, be empirical, and pursue the question “Am I in danger?”
It’s in taking this seriously, with an attitude of sincerity, without being dismissive or judgmental, that the anxious part of you feels safe to listen to you, only once you listen to it and take what it says seriously, and have respect for what it believes. Then you shepherd it out into the world, which will likely make you feel vulnerable, and show it what it thinks is dangerous and scary. If you genuinely think you’ll be safe, even if that part of you doesn’t think you’re safe, then do this, hold The Little You’s hand and show it the scary place, the darkness, and let it see there’s nothing scary there. Let The Little You decide if it’s safe or not.
This was specific to anxiety, but it’s true for everything. You don’t change yourself in anyway by changing yourself, yourself will always snap back. You change your view of the world, your beliefs about the world, and you will adapt to what you believe the world is like.
If you believe people are friendly, you will naturally be more social. If you believe the world is safe, you will naturally relax. If you believe the world is a dangerous threatening place, you will naturally develop chronic tensions.
You will naturally adapt to the world you believe.