Last week I was reflecting on my past experience of social anxiety and I had several people contact me to say that it is something they experience and find difficult to cope with. One of the things that helped me was when a teacher – I think the same one who talked of being a mess in progress – told me not to worry too much what others were thinking about me….as people are generally spending more time thinking about what others are thinking about them than actually thinking anything about others! It seemed wonderfully ironic – that everyone is trapped in worrying about what others think of them, when in fact no-one is thinking of anything but how they are being seen!
The first Buddhist group I was involved with encouraged open and honest communication. And the result was that when I was in men’s groups we would be truly open about our thoughts, feelings and fears. It doesn’t take long to see that even the person who seems most confident is carrying some fear or difficulty. In fact it seems to be what unites us as humans. We might worry about our bodies or looks, but then people I know who work with cover models say they are just as concerned that they are not good enough!
In the end we can only find happiness when we feel a sense of confidence that is rooted in the present moment rather than how we ought to be. Being willing to be “a mess in progress” rather than fearing we are not perfect! I wanted to fix myself as a young man, to find Enlightenment and escape the feeling of loneliness and fear that seemed ever present. I’ve been lucky to meet teachers who point to the truth that what we look for is closer than our breath, that happiness and freedom is here, now and not something we have to strive to find. But it does take a moment of letting go. In Buddhist teachings it’s called coming home. Realising that we were always where we wanted to be but were too busy looking to realise. Every time we let go in the meditation and come back to ‘being’, resting our attention in the moment, on the breath, we come back to this stillness, peace and joy that is there all the time. It’s just that we so often forget to notice it, like a fish looking for water but never realising that which it seeks is all around and within.
The irony is that we often need to go on the journey, searching of our answer, for stillness, for confidence, to finally realise what we looked for was there all along. The journey simply enables us to recognise what it was we were overlooking.
As you feel yourself being pulled into whatever your negative stories might be, take a moment to stop and breathe, to reflect that this is simply the habitual patterns of the mind playing out, like an old film that we’ve seen so many times we think its real or a record with the needle stuck. Then sense what it is that is being aware of this, the stillness, the silence, the love and bliss in that awareness and trust that that is your true nature, not the confusion and struggle.
In ‘The Pilgrims Progress’ Pilgrim catches a glimpse of Heaven from a window in House Beautiful. After seeing it he knows what Heaven is and it is similar for us in those fleeting seconds of resting in pure awareness. We glimpse something that is true, for Buddhist teaching say that our true nature is unborn, uncreated and outside of time. Therefore there is nothing we have to do to find this peace and freedom. It simply ‘is’ and we can only let go into experiencing it when the whirling of the mind and the story of self disperses, like clouds dissolving away to reveal the magnificent and vast blue sky that was there all the time.
It’s this that my teachers were alway inviting me to experience and I trust that as I learn to let go more freely then it will not be a cold emptiness that receives me but a warm and loving fullness of being.