Many of us live in an almost constant state of anxiety, yet we are scarcely aware of it. We are clinging when we fear that we will not get what we want or that we'll lose what we already have. It's aversion when we fear either receiving, or not getting rid of, what we do not want to have. This fear lives in the background of our lives and shows itself in our discontent, stress, hypertension, frustration, anxiety and depression. What we cling to or avoid is all based on our beliefs. When what is happening is contrary to those limiting beliefs, our bodies create an emotional response.
Clinging and aversion generate a constant stream of emotional reactions that can hold incredible power over our lives and keep us locked into our dramas. When we believe that we are a certain kind of person and that life is a certain way for us, we can filter out everything that does not fit within those beliefs. In a way, we become magnetized by our beliefs. We are pulled toward the same kinds of people and we gravitate toward the same kinds of entertainment and distractions. We encounter the same kinds of problems and tend to end up in the same kinds of relationships over and over again. We are pushed and pulled by our emotions toward what we believe will make us happy and away from what we believe will not.
Consider the numerous suicides that occurred after the stock market crash in the late 1920s. Those individuals, most of them formerly wealthy investment bankers, stockbrokers, and corporate executives, simply could not envision a life without wealth or power. So powerful was their aversion to poverty, they saw no option other than death. They had clung to wealth and their ability to earn it because they believed that it defined their self-worth. When the bottom dropped out, they thought that their lives were over.
When we are not maintaining our dramas, anxiety can creep in, creating a helpless and overwhelming feeling, literally making us want to crawl right out of our own skin. Most of us avoid this anxiety by forcefully altering our moods. The vast majority of us employ some method of mood altering to change how we feel so we gain a sense of comfort when we are feeling emotionally uncomfortable. So we hide. For as long as we continue to avoid a given feeling, we cannot recognize its root cause and free ourselves from it.
Have you noticed how most of us are in a nearly constant search for distraction? Many of us are engaged in a relentless pursuit to become emotionally disconnected from ourselves with one thing or another. Do you or any of the people you know find it difficult to just sit quietly? How do you deal with your anxiety? Do any of these mood-altering tactics apply to you?
•Work: working overtime and avoiding social interactions to conceal our pain.
•Sex: hiding from uncomfortable feelings through compulsive sexual behavior.
•Television: avoiding discomfort by watching TV for hours on end, every day.
•Drugs or alcohol: escaping uncomfortable emotions through mood altering drugs.
•Tobacco: using nicotine and the act of smoking to calm yourself.
•Tasks: needing to stay compulsively active with endless tasks or conversations.
•Rage: only feeling okay after venting anxiety and anger inappropriately.
•Exercise: using exercise compulsively as a way to avoid uncomfortable emotions.
•Adrenaline: using risky behavior as a form of mood altering.
•Food: eating compulsively in search of comfort.
•Hoarding: collecting and saving worthless items that clutter up our life.
•Shopping: overspending and placing ourselves in credit card debt to avoid what's really wrong.
•Cleaning: obsessively cleaning in order to maintain control of our surroundings.
•Spirituality: becoming cultish or pious in separating ourselves from others.
Can you think of any other ways that you or people you know keep from feeling the restlessness of their anxiety? While these are common methods of mood-altering, they are also very obvious.
It takes no courage or effort to manifest our own worst fears. Many of us simply maintain the same kind of life, rarely leaving the drama to expose ourselves to new possibilities and choices. We unthinkingly limit ourselves, so that life feels predictable, familiar and safe.
Adapted and edited from the book "Present Moment Awareness" by Shannon Duncan (New World Library; 2004) with permission from New World Library, Novato, CA. For more info, visit www.newworldlibrary.com or call 800-972-6657 ext. 52.