You Are Not Your Thoughts: How to Overcome Anxiety
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You are the sky. The clouds are what happens, what comes and goes.
- Eckhart Tolle
You are the sky and your thoughts are the clouds.
We need to remember this so that we can dis-identify from our thoughts.
We are not the thoughts that we think; the thoughts that we think are only clouds passing by. They appear in the sky, but they are not the sky.
To think that we are our thoughts - to identify with them - would be as if the sky mistook itself for a passing cloud.
The sky is vast and eternal; clouds are insubstantial by comparison.
We are not the clouds; we are not our thoughts.
When we think: I am not enough - that is a cloud.
When we lament: She doesn't love me - that is a cloud.
Any of the frightening things we think are only clouds.
But often we see a cloud and literally blow it out of proportion; we focus on it until it expands and covers the sky completely, until we cannot see the sky and forget that it exists because of how wrapped up we are in the clouds.
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But beneath the cloud - any cloud - the sky is always still there.
And if we can remind ourselves of that every time a cloud passes, any time a storm passes, then we've conquered life.
Life is a result of whatever we identify with and if we learn to simply observe our thoughts without identifying with them - if we remember that we're the sky instead of the clouds - then life cannot hurt us.
Every time you get caught up in a 'storm of thinking' ask yourself "Is this real, or is this just a lot of clouds?"
I used to suffer from major anxiety and have had some very intense (and sometimes embarrassingly public) panic attacks.
The more I've learned to dis-identify from my thoughts - to be the sky observing the clouds - the less panic attacks I had.
Now, every time I feel my thoughts feeding my emotions and beginning to spin themselves into dark clouds, I call myself out on it: "Whoa there! Let's not go down that rabbit hole. You're not gonna end up in a good place so let's shut that shit down right now."
Then I ask myself why I might be thinking those thoughts or feeling that way in the moment. I've learned to identify my 'dark cloud triggers' and realize that most often they happen when I'm tired and haven't had enough down-time. My nerves are frayed and I'm impatient and start to think and believe dark thoughts.
That's my signal to cancel everything. If I had plans, or a full to-do list, it's not going to happen. I need to rest my mind, I need to mentally disconnect.
For me that often means putting on an audio book and baking. Or going to the gym. What I need in that moment is to STOP THINKING, and START DOING.
When you begin to identify with your thoughts and feel anxiety building, do whatever activity pulls you out of thinking. Step out of your mind and do something that doesn't give you the opportunity to think.
The clouds will dissipate and the anxiety will subside.
I know this works because it's been two years since my last anxiety attack. It doesn't mean I haven't felt anxious in that time, but it means that, thanks to the method I've described above, I've been able to nip the anxiety in the bud before it escalates.
Remember, you are not the clouds, you are the sky.
Rest in natural great peace, this exhausted mind, beaten helpless by karma and neurotic thought, like the relentless fury of the pounding waves in the infinite ocean of samsara.
- Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche
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