I wanted to go to the city today to buy something. As I contemplated the idea, I started to feel anxious. The idea of being in the city centre with lots of people around me did not feel absolutely terrifying, but still very uncomfortable. Social anxiety, or perhaps a mild agoraphobia, would be the correct scientific term.
Usually, I just push this stuff down and throw myself into the situation – or avoid it altogether. But in the long term, this kind of coping seems to make things worse, not better.
An idea that sometimes helps me be mindful about my emotions and thoughts is to see myself as pure consciousness or soul – let me call it operator for the sake of this article – residing in a human body, which I interpret as a computer with software on it. Or a tablet or an iPhone, whatever you can identify most with.
This concept helps me to detach enough from my emotions and reactions to observe them and try to understand them.
Social anxiety can be such a program. Its basic functionality is: Look for signs of social contact. If detected, create a push notification to notify the operator about the danger, and create physical resistance in the form of automated movements and/or pain to avoid exposure to the danger.
This program serves a function, but I have long forgotten about it. The truth is that at some point, the anxiety just seemed bothersome to me and whenever that little push notification came up in the form of an alert box, I clicked it away. When clicking away became too bothersome, I installed another program that automatically clicked the notification away whenever it came up. I installed another program to forcibly override the physical resistance created by the anxiety. The result was not optimal. My thoughts and emotions were no longer in a flow, everything felt like a bumpy road with lots of obstacles that cost valuable energy as one program fights the effects of another.
And that is the really important thing. This computer runs on energy, which does regenerate, but not at an infinitely high rate. Every program requires energy to run. The anxiety requires energy and the programs needed to suppress it require energy too. There is little energy left for creative thinking and actual living and enjoying the moment. One solution to compensate for the lack of energy can be to eat a lot, or to fish for energy from others through attention whoring, playing the victim, etc.
But even that fishing for energy, those power games, require energy for themselves. For example, there is the “beat someone in a debate” program. If the program succeeds, the organism gains energy from the organism that lost the argument. But the program itself requires energy. If the argument is lost, you lose your initial investment of energy into running the program.
So anyhow, I observed my anxiety and noticed that the program that was predominant in my body was not actually the anxiety itself, but rather the program designed to suppress it and push it away. It is impossible to know what the fear is even about when all the notifications it sends you are automatically clicked away, giving you no chance to read the information contained in the alert box.
Compare to a computer. First time some stupid alert box comes up, you click it away. With time, the alert boxes stack up until they cost you too much energy to simply ignore. Which is the point where you probably will either crash and reinstall your computer or – if not possible – start paying attention to where the alert boxes actually come from to eliminate the problem at its root.
Another aspect of those programs in the body is that they are actually living beings. Once created, they create their own will to survive. When fought, they resist. Sometimes they can be argued with, but at other times the only way to get rid of them is to acknowledge and love them, for they serve a purpose and usually believe that they exist for your good – which is why they want to be loved by you.
A difficulty I often encounter with loving myself / the programs in my body is that the love must be honest and express true appreciation and understanding and gratitude. I often tried to love something in myself away without truly understanding it. I would bombard it with love so that it would just leave. So I think the key is not love itself, but the intent behind it. As they say, intent is everything. If you only love it in order to get rid of it, the program will notice it and resist your attempt to get rid of it. It will say: You still have not understood what I am about, dude. Your love is just a pretense.
Acceptance does not work when it is an attempt to accept something away. Real acceptance is to ask a disliked part of yourself: What function do you fulfill? And understanding the answer. No program exists without a function it is supposed to fulfill.
You can try to engage such a program in a dialogue and ask it what it is doing for you. You can try to reason with it about whether that functionality is, at this time, still necessary.
When modern psychology speaks of understanding emotions, it often takes you back and has you dwelling on your past. It says: You feel this because your mother did that and that is why you learned to react this way. Which makes you feel good about understanding the source, but actually leaves you a bit helpless as you can not change the past. The best you can do then is to blame the past or your mother.
Even worse, possibly, is evolutionary psychology – if that is the correct term. I am not sure whether this is actually scientific theory or just PUA rationalization, but a good example of this is when Mystery, the PUA, in his workshop explains his horrible fear of rejection by talking of human evolution and how it was a useful thing in tribes, where a rejection would get you exiled and left to die. I doubt this is true, by the way, but that’s not really relevant here.
The point is that all these types of understanding only give you a why. They point to why a program was installed on your computer. It’s a bit like trying to solve the problem of having a child-proof software on your personal computer by understanding why your parents installed it when you were young. Whilst the more interesting question would be: How does this software work exactly, does it still serve me and how can I deactivate it? That, I think, is the essence of living in the Now.
So I tried to feel into my fear of going into the city. I realized that I feared the usual painful dynamic of it, which includes me hoping to be liked and not rejected, frowned upon or shamed by people that pass me. Usually resulting in the opposite, as this fear makes my hypersensitive even to the slightest disapproval by others. Walking through the city feels like I am exposing myself to millions of malevolent eyes. Like I am walking through a raging battlefield unarmed, where I am alone against a whole army. It’s painful, yes.
Behind the social anxiety was really a fear of shame and rejection. Another program. I understood that this fear was trying to protect me from pain and really only meant well, so I gave it some love and then intuitively confronted it with three ideas:
- Do you think you can achieve a way of living that will never get you rejected or shamed or frowned upon by others?
- Have you ever taken long-term permanent damage from rejection? Have you ever died?
- You often reject other people as well – or want to do that. You are no better or worse than those who do.
I am not sure whether I did much more. Maybe I gave that fear some more love. The realization that I would not ever be able to avoid rejection completely created a temporarily strong agonizing pressure in my chest, then it faded away.
Suddenly – at least for the moment – the fear was gone. I drove my bike through masses of people and whilst this used to feel like trying to maneuver through a forest of thorny bushes, scratching and slicing me open as I passed through; now I just felt like I was a ghost making my way through the masses practically unnoticed by anyone and not taking much notice of anyone else myself. I did not fight the program anymore – it was gone. When I did encounter some kind of shame, for example for ignoring red lights and getting called out, the pain was there for a second and immediately faded out of my awareness again. No longer did I get caught up in those moments.
Yes, I think that being a ghost is a very very good metaphor for the way I felt. Maybe I just felt normal, like everyone else. But in comparison to the past, the effortlessness of it all felt like I was floating through and past all those energies that used to bother me. If I was still walking on a battlefield, I have suddenly become invisible and transparent to the impact of bullets. The bullets did no longer interact with me, because I no longer had any matter with which they could interact, so they just passed right through. As I say, a ghost.
Maybe fear – and related programs – are the metaphysical matter that gets caught up in energetical attacks. What some call the ego. If insults by others build a wall, our ego programs are the illusionary solid matter which can not pass through the wall without hurting itself. Whereas without the ego matter, all that remains of us is a weightless, matterless spirit that passes right through these walls without even really taking notice of their existence.
As a weightless, matterless spirit, the wall appears to us as an illusion and we know the illusion can not hurt us. But if we build up an illusion of matter in ourselves, and then identify with the illusion, we feel vulnerable. And if someone attacks that illusion, we become angry. We fight wars. Maybe that is why one is not supposed to identify God in idols. When one does that, the spirit – which is one with God – identifies with the idol. And any idol, as opposed to God, is vulnerable, destructible, non-eternal. That is why it has to be defended with fervor, with rage, with violence, with all passion that is available. As if God needed defending. As if anything that happens is a lesser expression of God than the idol, the illusion.
Maybe ego is the sum of software that runs unchecked in our bodies. Maybe enlightenment is the act of uninstalling all automatic thought-based software step by step, to end up being a weightless ghost guided by thoughtless intuition and creative intelligence.
Thought-based is an important aspect in this. A lot of that software is a rigid thought-based if, then structure. Unflexible. I think I am coming to learn that it is true that emotions are only created by thought. If you try to be mindful a lot, you will have those moments where you consciously notice how an emotion comes as a response to a thought. For example, I was lying in bed yesterday, completely at ease and enjoying myself. Then a thought came into my head: I could invite a friend to enjoy myself more. And suddenly I felt bad and unsatisfied – whilst being aware that I had been perfectly satisfied before this thought came in. Had I not thought about how to improve the moment, I would not have felt dissatisfied with it.
We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.
– Dave Ramsey
Of course, I have to be careful not to let the technique I used in this case become another program. Because whatever worked in this case may not work in another. What worked for me, may not work for you. My meditation teacher always says: Do what feels right to you. I would suggest an improvement: Do what feels right to you at the very moment you are doing it.
Sometimes you first need to try out the ways that don’t work for you, to find the ways that do. To feel confident about your choice. Following rules seems to go nowhere. Although, finding that out requires one to first try it. :)
If you are wondering how to handle a situation, just ask yourself how you intuitively feel like handling it. And observe what happens.