I know you cannot wait for me to reveal the secrets of overcoming anxiety and depression. I will not keep you waiting. It has to do with the understanding of two simple concepts or principles of living. What are they?
The first is “Acceptance”. The second is “Living in the Present (Now)”.
Do you think that is too simplistic? Then, take a look at what two recent stalwarts and recognized authorities on spirituality say on it:
“If you look at yourself in your moments of pleasure or pain, you will invariably find that it is not the thing in itself that is pleasant or painful, but the situation of which it is a part. Pleasure lies in the relationship between the enjoyer and the enjoyed. And the essence of it is acceptance. Whatever may be the situation, if it is acceptable, it is pleasant. If it is not acceptable, it is painful. What makes it acceptable is not important; the cause may be physical, or psychological, or untraceable; acceptance is the decisive factor. Obversely, suffering is due to nonacceptance.” — Nisargadatta Maharaj
“You cannot be both unhappy and fully present in the Now.” — Eckhart Tolle
The last name must ring a bell. Yes, it is the same Eckhart who has written those two modern-day bestsellers and classics on the subjects of acceptance, surrender, and living in the now. Some of you may have already read those two books – namely, The Power of Now, and A New Earth.
Of course, I was introduced to these concepts very late in my battle with anxiety and depression. Better late than never, right? No sooner than I got introduced to these two concepts and understood their full significance, I overcame my anxiety literally overnight. Mild depression lingered on for a while but that also eventually disappeared. No kidding. Let me recap the story.
I still remember that day. It was October 29, 2017. I had just come back home late in the night, after having discussed about acceptance with a close relative. I was struggling to understand what acceptance really was. Aside from a casual curiosity, I also had a deep-down buried hope that acceptance just might help me deal with my anxieties, fears, and worries. But, first I had to understand what it was. What exactly is acceptance?
“Does acceptance mean we do not do anything about the situation we find ourselves in? Is acceptance a passive way of being?” My relative coolly said, “No, acceptance does not mean you do not plan for the future and take action accordingly. What it means is that you are doing that from a place of acceptance, that is, without mental agitation and agony over the current situation you find yourself in. You fully accept the ‘what is’.”
I probed further. I asked him: “Suppose you were a prisoner of war, say in Abu Ghraib prison, and were being tortured. Would you still be in acceptance in that scenario?” He replied as a matter-of-factly, “Well, what choice would I have other than to accept and bear the physical pain. But, mentally I would not suffer because I would be in a state of acceptance. By being in a state of non-acceptance I would be adding another layer of mental suffering onto the physical pain.”
I persisted and asked, “What if you lost your job and were forced to become homeless?” He replied, “Well, in that case, again, what choice would I have other than to accept and adjust to being homeless. I would figure out whatever it is that homeless people do to get by.”
Those replies of his did it for me. I saw that if acceptance made sense even in a state of being tortured or homeless then it has to make sense in every other scenario and circumstance or life situation. Still, it needed some mulling over.
Over the next day or so, as I mulled over that conversation with him, some things became clear to me. Stress, worry, anxiety, fear, despair, dread, and unhappiness are symptoms of non-acceptance of “what is” or the present moment. They are symptoms of not living in the Now but in the past and future. One realizes then that non-acceptance does not change “what is” or what will be and merely causes suffering in the present. Thus, one sees the sanity in acceptance and living in the now.
Of course, acceptance and living in the now do not mean that if there is some action you can take to see if you can better the situation in some way you should not. Only thing is, acceptance and living in the now mean such action is not accompanied by unnecessary and futile thinking. Mental commentary in the form of anxiety, stress, worry, fear, despair, dread, and unhappiness are absent.
You see, acceptance and living in the now calms down the frenzied and incessant thinking. In that stillness, the inner intelligence operates and guides the mind to deal with “what is”. Hence, right action ensues, one that is appropriate for the present moment. Non-acceptance of “what is” is self-created suffering.
Once I understood these things, I went to bed that day in a calmer state of mind. I woke up and I was amazed. The constant background of anxiety was no more present in my mind. I was astounded as to how the anxiety that I had suffered from for the past so many years had lifted overnight. Still, I thought I will watch myself over the next few days to see if it would return. Luckily for me, it did not.
And, then it was a matter of mulling over the same principles and facts surrounding acceptance to stabilize further in that condition. Slowly, over the course of next few weeks even the symptoms of mild depression left me as the following things became clear in my mind.
Stress, worry, anxiety, fear, despair, dread, and unhappiness do not contribute to positive outcomes in the future; if anything, they contribute to negative outcomes in the future. Not only that, but they also ruin the present. So, it makes sense to dump them at once by getting to acceptance of the present or “what is’.
The constant expectation of a desired outcome in the future generates anxiety, stress, worry, and fear as to whether it will come to pass or not. But “a heart for any fate”, or in other words, acceptance, eliminates them. And you need to have “a heart for any fate” because when the fate comes to fruition in some future present you have no choice but to face it. Any amount of stress, worry, anxiety, fear, despair, dread and unhappiness at that time, which is non-acceptance, is not going to change the situation and is merely going to ruin that present without contributing anything positive toward future outcomes.
That is why Ramana Maharshi says, “The Ordainer controls the fate of souls in accordance with their past deeds. Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try how hard you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to stop it. This is certain. The best course, therefore, is to remain silent.” Yes, the best course is to remain silent (that is, cut off thinking in the form of stress, worry, anxiety, and fear) in the face of predetermined fate, which amounts to acceptance of any fate that befalls us. Not doing so only adds to the suffering without changing the course of future events.
How does acceptance tie in with living in the Now?
Non-acceptance means your mind will be thinking in the form of regret, stress, worry, anxiety, and fear. What are they but synonymous with living in the past or future? Acceptance at once cuts off such thinking and leads to a still mind. A still mind makes you grounded and attuned to the now. When you thus get to acceptance and living in the now, you reach a state of inner calm and peace. In that state whatever you do will be in a state of “flow”. When you function in life with such acceptance and living in the now you are basically surrendering to “what is” or what life brings to your doorstep. And, that is nothing but living in surrender to God’s will.
At this point in time, you may get a doubt as to whether I was on any medication. I was on antidepressants throughout this period. But, the point is, despite the medications I was not able to fully overcome the symptoms. And after having overcome the anxiety and depression as recounted above, now I am on less than maintenance doses. I expect to be fully off even those very minimal doses within 6 months.
If you want to further explore the concepts of acceptance and living in the now from all angles, I suggest that you go through these short and excellent articles on them:
- How to End Suffering – https://randommusings2020.wordpress.com/how-to-end-suffering/
- Acceptance (the ego litmus test) – https://theuniversemeetingitself.com/2016/12/19/acceptance-the-ego-litmus-test/
- Eckhart Tolle on Surrender and Acceptance – https://selfrealization.home.blog/2018/09/26/eckhart-tolle-on-surrender-and-acceptance/
- Non-resistance: Eliminating unnecessary Suffering – http://www.thestillflame.com/non-resistance/
- “Accept Yourself As You Are” (Falling Back Into The Source – Osho) – https://o-meditation.com/2019/04/26/falling-back-into-the-source-osho/