anxiety in children

I have children who always seem to be anxious about something or the other.  My older son used to have many anxieties and had counselling.  My younger son is now doing his school exams and constantly studying or revising. His only method of relaxing is texting and seeing his friends from time to time. In his anxiety about the exams, he started revising during his school lunch breaks and forgoing eating and meeting his friends in the break or after school. I tried to get him to relax through conversations over dinner and asking him about things other than exams.  But he seemed very averse to the whole thing and told me that I didn’t understand ‘modern exams’.  I also enrolled him into a service that offers telephone counselling on anxiety issues but he refused to speak to them. I told him he should join some local sports which would help him with anxiety issues.

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Anxiety by Edvard Munch

Talking about this situation with a friend over lunch, it struck me that I was asking my son to do things I didn’t do myself. I was constantly talking about work or working all the time without breaks, I didn’t meet up with friends regularly enough and never did any sports myself.  I spent many sleepless nights due to anxiety over various things (last night I slept for about three hours!).  My two children were only reflecting the anxiety I felt myself and were modelling themselves over me.  But what a terrible role model I was. Social media has made our lives difficult when we see people being successful and earning money, having millions of followers and having public profiles. Although I don’t think anyone tries to become like these lucky people (and they are lucky); we also want to achieve smaller victories in our lives.  But what if we just tried to be happy and not ambitious?

I have just started re-reading the ‘One straw revolution’ by Masanobu Fukuoka.  Fukuoka was a scientist turned farmer who started a farming revolution by doing nothing.  He was laughed at and ignored for over 25 years until people noticed that he was growing far more crops that way using no insecticide, no fertilisers, tillage and no ‘wasteful effort’.  This morning as it turned 5-00am and the skies became light, I started reading the book after having failed to sleep. In the book, Fukuoka says bluntly, ‘There is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is futile, meaningless effort.’  I realised that we overdo everything- work, thoughts, worries, money, relationships- when we could just relax and be happy.  In trying to overdo everything, we get anxious.  Realising this at dawn today after a night of no sleep was rather ironic but enlightening.  Fukuoka’s terse words reminded me of the movie ‘The fault in our stars’ in which the lead character, Hazel Grace, says that in reality as we die, everything we do dies with us.  Though again quite a sobering thought, it really means that we are not that important in the scheme of the universe. If we just let go of our own importance, relaxed and became happy without trying to accomplish and over achieve, we would be happier beings.

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So this morning, I tried some ‘no or little work’ gardening following the advice of Fukuoka and my son joined in.  He then went to a see a friend for lunch and as he left, I joked, ‘I hope you don’t talk about exams!’ He laughed and waved goodbye.  In his writing, the Buddhist monk Nichiren advises his follower, a typically hot headed alpha male samurai warrior, Shijo Kingo, ‘Though worldly troubles may arise, never let them disturb you. No one can avoid problems, not even sages or worthies.  Drink sake only at home with your wife….Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life.’ I had smile as I realise that often I enjoy what is there to suffer and suffer what is there to enjoy! But it is actual so much simpler just to enjoy life.

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Staying together

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Couples who do things together, stay together!  It is important to have shared goals. Although you may not do absolutely everything together, as long as your main and most important goals match, then you will be working together and loving your time together.

I saw this lovely example recently at a pottery workshop.  A couple who had met with their shared love of pottery, decided to make these bowls together for their wedding.  The idea is that these bowls will be used to decorate the table and then each guest can take them away as a memento of their shared joy in this marriage. I am sure this marriage is made to last!  Congratulations to this happy and wonderful couple who incidentally I don’t know and have never met but already I feel the joy of their wedding and their lives.

What is mindfulness?

I used to think that mindfulness was about thinking, that I needed to think through everything I was doing- ‘I am opening the door, I am putting my shoes away, etc etc’.  But the more I thought, the more tired I got.  The chatter in my mind was not mindfulness- it was clutter.  Mindfulness is easy, is calm and clear.  I realised what mindfulness is when I read the following words from the Venerable W Rahula:

Mindfulness does not mean that you should think and be conscious,’I am doing this’ or ‘I am doing that’. No. Just the contrary.  The moment you think ‘I am doing this’ you become self conscious and then you do not live in the action but you live in the idea, ‘I am’ and consequently your work is spoilt too.  You should forget yourself completely and lose yourself in what you do.

So for  example if you are looking at something, then just look at it with your whole life and not think, ‘I am looking at it’.  I still get the sorts of thoughts I used to but now I simply observe the thoughts and let them float away like clouds until my mind is clear.

Even moments of joy and suffering can be tools of mindfulness.  As Nichiren, the Buddhist monk said, ‘Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life..’  Many a times, we suffer what is there to enjoy and enjoy what is there to suffer and thus, our whole life becomes miserable.  Instead as Thoreau advised, we should strive to ‘live deep and suck out all the marrow of life’ – whatever that may be.

Happy invention

Daisaku Ikeda says “Everything passes. Both soaring joys and crushing sorrows fade away like a dream. However, the knowledge of having lived one’s life to the fullest never disappears.”

My life has been quite full so far and yes, I have done foolish things too and wasted time.  However, the time that I have spent following my heart have been the most joyful (including writing these blogs, which have helped me to understand myself).  Yes, I can to look back at the foolish stuff I have done, yet they were learning experiences, even though they may have been sometimes unhappy.  The present is the only moment to live, fully.  We don’t know what the future may bring but as Alan Kay says, “The best way to predict the future is invent it.”

Happy invention today to all of you!

 

Soul food

Today I visited a hospital as part of my work.  I went around the whole building from outpatients to operating theatres, clinics to wards  (by the way, thinking about it, what strange names form part of a hospital!)  Health is one of our greatest gifts, even our greatest gift- something we do not realise until we fall ill.  Physical and mental health are part of ourselves that may be treated by doctors.  But what about our spiritual health which rules both our physical and mental health?

Our spiritual health can only be treated by ourselves.  It is the most difficult to treat.  Some people say that they have no religion.  Where they have religion or not,  everyone has their own philosophy of life that is part of their spiritual make-up.  I was reading about ‘Soul food‘, which is separate from kind of food we eat that nourishes our bodies and minds. Soul food is for the spirit.  The soul or spirit needs food and exercise to be healthy just like our physical and mental selves.  ‘Soul exercises’ are the troubles and tribulations we go through in life that expand our life states and make us more capable.  Soul food can be many things that nourish us-

1. Love and support from your loved ones- like heart warming conversation or soul stirring advice.

2. Love and support that you give yourself- like a gentle best friend who encourages you.

3. Inspirational books, music, art or films that you see- here someone else’s soul touches your soul.

4. Cutting out negative influences- leaving toxic relationships, disregarding critical messages from your childhood and from others; and any other negative external influences.

5. Soul exercise- it could be your hobbies, some great food you cooked, some work you enjoyed, the child you soothed with calming words or songs, the kind words you said to a friend, a challenge you solved, a serious illness you overcame with cheerfulness and joy- anything that you give from your soul!

If we don’t feed and exercise our souls, we cannot live a full life.  We know this from meeting people who are are physically ill and yet, we find, they could be the ‘life and soul of a party’.  It is not the mere absence of illness that makes us healthy, it is the absence of a spirit to live that makes us unhealthy.  As Nichiren wrote:

“Life is the most precious of all treasures. Even one extra day of life is worth more than ten million ryo of gold.”

(If you are ill and struggling, I recommend the book, Love, medicine and miracles by Bernie Siegel, M D which has real examples where people overcame many health problems with a strong spirit supported by proper medication and health professionals)