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.

512px-Edvard_Munch_-_Anxiety_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
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.

IMG_1651.jpg

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.

Advertisements

Living lightly- part III

IMG_1409

Now I come to the second book I bought from the library sale (please read the last two posts if you are new to this).  This was the ‘Healing power of the mind’ by Tulku Thondup (a Tibetan Buddhist monk).  I would like to share from this book, the most powerful visualisation and relaxation exercise I have done.

This is about nothingness and imagining that you are slowly dissolving into air and your surroundings- expanding to become part of it.  Most mindfulness exercises ask you to become mindful of your body, thoughts and actions.- you are asked to ‘look’ at your body, feelings or actions and consider them lightly, letting them go.  With this ‘nothingness’ exercise you let go of everything.  It is very difficult to achieve at first but becomes easier and easier, achieving this state easily.  Perhaps this is what drugs to you I thought but without the harmful effects.  The first time I did it, it was not easy.  However, with time, melting into my surroundings has become easier for me.  I felt relaxed with the heaviness of life gone- I felt like air and light.

Thondup also talks about not ‘grasping’ state of mind.  A lot of worry and stress come from grasping- people, power, position, fame etc.  By doing this exercise of dissolving, it is the opposite of grasping.  I have this photo of snow drops and other spring flowers which disappear after the spring, only to arrive beautiful and rejuvenated with life next spring.  We also do a similar thing during sleep, perhaps even during death.  So doing this while alive can also have a rejuvenating effect.

Try it and let me know if it works for you!

Living Lightly- Part II

IMG_1423

IMG_1424

From my last post, you will read that I bought two books after a lot of thought because I have been trying to decrease the numbers of books I have, not increase them.  These two books have turned out to be quite amazing, just right for me.  They go to show that when you buy something with thoughtfulness, then it truly is the right thing for your life.

I am writing about the first book- ‘Works of Henry David Thoreau’.  I love his writing- ‘Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.  I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.  I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.”  Pure poetry in that prose!

However, it was not just Thoreau’s writing that captured my attention.  That book had been a gift to someone visiting India (I am from India!) from his parents. On the frontispiece which I have photographed above were these inscriptions and I reproduce them as they might be too small to read.  The mother had written, ‘I hope you will enjoy the readings of Thoreau and through his writing, gain a better understanding of his words, “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.” ‘  The father had written, ‘Open the book anytime and read anywhere in it.  Just read a line or two; it is not necessary to do more than that.  Thoreau’s words are as timely today as when he wrote them.  If you do that you too will soon possess the more perfect Indian wisdom.’

Perhaps the son was going to India in search of spirituality and wisdom.  Perhaps his life was complex and difficult.  Perhaps he was nervous. Perhaps he did not like to read too much or he would not have enough time.  His parents were worried about the journey and gave him this book as reminder of their love and encouragement.  How beautiful!  Even more beautiful that this book came my way as a reminder, ‘Open the book anytime and read anywhere in it.  Just read a line or two; it is not necessary to do more than that!’  I am doing just that- thank you to the parents and the son who made this possible for me.

 

How not to worry

I used to be a big worrier but now I think I have only 10% of that amount left in me.  My beloved late uncle used to say, “Hurry and worry are the biggest threat to someone’s life”.  If I look back at something that had troubled me in the past and then analysed what had actually happened, I could see that all the horrible things I had thought that might have happened, never did.  So why did I worry?  There might have been childhood insecurities as sometimes I did not have enough to eat or wear.  My dad worked long hours and I was worried I would not see him.  But anyway, I have met others who had exactly the same circumstances but not as huge worriers as me.  So perhaps it was genes.  Whatever it was, it was not good that I used to grind my teeth at night (I still wear a teeth protector at night), bite my finger and fidget endlessly.  So I am pleased that it has all but gone now.  What do I do now?

Apparently this method for not worrying was discovered by Willis H Carrier- the inventor of modern air conditioning.  According to him there are three steps-

1. Work out what is the worst that could happen in a situation (usually never happens)

2. Acceptance of the ‘worst position’- what a relief this step is!

3. Work out how to remedy the situation in step 2 (most of the time we never get to step 2 or 3)

A few weeks ago, I had a letter from the tax office who were querying some figures I had given.  I was about to go away so I asked for some time to respond.  Instead of worrying, I calmly went about collecting the information they had asked for before I left so that I could enjoy my holiday in peace.  I also thought about what the worst situation I could face- perhaps a fine.  So I looked at my bank balance and realised that I could pay a small fine off.  Eventually I sent off the letter and today I got a reply which said the tax office had accepted the figures and evidence I had given them.  A few years ago, I would have probably bitten my entire hand with worry even before sending anything off.  That hurry and worry go together as my Uncle said is so true- a calm acceptance and analysis of a situation can help us through worry.

So what about that 10% of worry that is still left in me?  I actually think it is good- it keeps me on my toes and urges me to take action.  If I was so indolent, then I would be careless too.  Excessive worry does not keep us in the moment- it takes us into the unknown future or the unchangeable past. Worry is not empowering- let it go!  As Kalidasa, the ancient Indian poet says below so eloquently, we need to live in the present moment-

Exhortation of the Dawn!

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

s[low]

I practice architectural design that is based on low energy principles- materials that use little energy to manufacture, materials that are from recycled sources and can be recycled and buildings that are low maintenance and need little energy to run.  Low energy appears to be something that gives the building long life.

Hearing about an Indian actor, Abir Goswami, who sadly died today aged 33 after having a massive heart attack on an exercise machine in the gym, I think low energy works for human beings too.  My Uncle, whose first death anniversary falls today, was a ‘low energy’ person- he practised yoga, not the gym, he ate and spoke slowly and calmly, living and enjoying every moment.  He lived up to an age of 96, looked no more than 60 years old and died peacefully in his sleep.  He used to say, “Hurry and worry are the worst things in life.”  There is a theory that we have certain amount of life energy and if we use it too quickly, then we fall ill or our bodies fail in some way.  That is why we have to rest when we are ill and often feel rejuvenated after such a forced rest.  Indian yogis who are reputed to live for around 100 years, practice meditation and yoga- both of which are low energy activities.  “Hurry too much and you will miss the boat”- so goes the saying.

With all the slow movements such as slow food, idleness, tai-chi, etc getting very popular today and even medical research supporting the view of slowness, I am convinced that going slow helps us all.  No matter how much faster your latest computer or telephone may work, the ultimate processor, i.e. your brain, will always work at a certain peak speed and will often slow down in moments of concentration.  Being slow is not the same as being lazy- my Uncle was always busy doing things that mattered to him, i.e. using his life energy purposefully.  Slow induces calmness and tranquility that I associate with water, so I made up with my son’s help this haiku to help me remember to slow down and enjoy the moment-

Image

Still, Life, Open Water- slow

Your tranquil head

Flows down to follow your heart

worries, no worries

I was worried that I would not be able to blog today.  My computer just closed down for no reason and would not start up.  I thought that I would have to go out to get a new one, then thought about how much it would cost, which brand I should buy, how I would bring it back home, how I would transfer my work from my old computer into the new one… and so on.  I was just getting unhappy and worried. My head was winning over my heart!

Then I just decided not to worry and just enjoy the evening with my family.  I called the computer engineer and he was to come to take away the old computer to rescue all the files the next day.  I had a lovely dinner with my children after which I started to think about all the good things that had happened today.  In light of all the good things, the computer problem was only one bad thing.  So I decided, all in all, it had been a good day.  Then a miracle happened.  Suddenly the computer burst into life.

I rang the computer engineer to cancel his appointment and then started writing this blog.  No one knows why the computer stopped working and then started again- we did Internet searches later to understand why this may have happened, we changed the fuse, looked at all the connections- but we could not figure out why a machine stopped working and then started again.  For no reason it seems.

But to think again, I think there was a reason- things happen for a reason.  Even this had a lesson for me- I am a perpetual worrier.  So my wonderful computer I like to think, taught me a great lesson about not worrying.  I must use this new lesson of not worrying from now on.  As Nichiren advises-“Never let life’s hardships disturb you. After all, no one can avoid problems, not even saints or sages….Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life…”