Anxiety is the suffering caused by mental conflict. Usually, the mind cannot reconcile two things together, and the result is a feeling of dissatisfaction.
If you want to make someone anxious, just ask them to be in two places at once, for two different people they care about. Or give them one task, and then interrupt it with another one. If they are at work, give them a family problem that can’t wait. If they are at home, then give them a work problem that can’t wait.
Many religions, including Buddhism, encourage us to see beyond current suffering, to a different time in which it will be possible to ‘see things as they truly are’. The idea is that we are suffering because we have misunderstood; and that, if we truly understand life, then we would be able to bypass suffering.
The idea that suffering, or anxiety, might be avoidable, is a difficult pill to swallow. We, understandably, find it a bit galling if someone tells us we are suffering unnecessarily.
But there are two ways in which it might be true. Firstly, the suffering of anxiety is often caused when we feel guilty that we are not doing enough. We experience this as pressure – exam pressure, relationship pressure, achievement pressure… this kind of suffering is alleviated when we feel we are doing all we can. The guilt can subside when we do our best.
Secondly, anxiety is often caused when we make the perceptual mistake of seeing ourselves as the centre of the universe. Test it out. Are you anxious about anything going on on the other side of the world, or on another planet? Probably not. That is because you are heavily biased towards yourself. If you saw the truth of that bias, you would not take it seriously, and your own welfare would not really concern you.
What am I worried about today?
Is there something in my world that does not feel right, that is causing me to fluster? Is it affecting my heart, causing palpitations? Is it keeping me awake? Is it affecting my appetite? Is it making me irritable? Is it affecting my ability to concentrate?
Firstly, am I doing my compassionate best? If I am acting with compassion, and trying to be wise, then at least I do not have to suffer from any guilt.
Secondly, am I in tune with the universal, rather than just myself? Am I able to forget, or ‘lose’, myself, in order to find happiness? If I am stuck in some kind of selfishness, can I learn to realise that this kind of bias is just an illusion of perspective?
A clear conscience, and a sense of humour and perspective. What a wonderful thing that would be.