One arrived this morning. ‘Shouldn’t you be worried about something, you might be forgetting something really important?” A thought suggested. I felt a chill of ‘oh no’.
It used to be that a wave of fear would arrive, carried on the back of a catastrophising thought about the future, and even just the sniff of fear would set off a chain reaction of further anxiety provoking thoughts.
They can have babies, these thoughts. They like to get a momentum going and make a big story out of a single thought. One future scenario of adversity imagined is enough encouragement for it to continue with other possible adverse situations.
It can then say, “and what about this threat, and THIS threat, and watch out for that one too, have you thought about that, what will you do if….did you remember to, don’t forget to….” And so on. Alert alert alert signals bombarding the poor nervous system that was just sitting here quite comfortable and warm enjoying a cup of coffee.
So for me some thoughts were themselves to be feared. Just one could lead to a wrecked nervous system full of worry, and flooded by fight or flight chemicals and take several hours to recover from.
They are like threat alert probes sent out into an imaginary figure to try and detect danger for us. Our minds were conditioned to do this over many many thousands of years, it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective to be risk sensitive.
The caveman walking in caution past a bush is far more likely to spot the hiding tiger and survive than the chap passing the bush without any caution for what may be hiding there.
And yet now we have a conundrum. Yes, thank you to the threat sensitive alert system that we have that has helped us to survive by avoiding danger. But now we have a situation where that very system can easily imprison us from experiencing freedom and joy and love and care and connecting and unity and laughter. Too much threat and we can end up anxiety ridden and even depressed.
What to do? First realise it is not our fault. We have inherited these minds which evolved this way to help us. And we can send some kindness and compassion towards ourselves for this predicament.
We can choose to notice and to become very conscious of the thoughts coming into our minds and even more important – which ones we judge as true.
Once we get familiar with the patterns of the thoughts, and have satisfied ourselves that many threats, if not nearly all of them are imaginary and unlikely and not true, they can be noticed and just dropped. Gently, over and over and over. Till eventually they lose interest in us. And leave us alone. I just say to them, ‘thanks for the alert, but I’ve got this’.
And I can choose instead to trust myself, trust that life is supporting me. I have plenty of evidence for that support right now as I sit. Warm, sheltered, well fed, enough money, no immediate danger, healthy…
Practising self compassion every day helps to increase our trust that we can handle what life presents. I have learned to be a friend to myself and I now rarely ‘abandon’ myself in times of distress. That means eliminate self criticism and self shaming and instead lots of kindness and soothing actions, practised till they become a habit.
I am excited about the way that the scenery is changing as a result. A whole new world is opening up. Where I can trust more, allow love to be expressed more freely and allow myself to receive love. Thrilling expansive stuff that creates a virtuous cycle.