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The Art of Mindful Living: Conquering Fear, Shame & Anxiety!

Five lessons from living mindfully.

 Photo by Marina Vitale on Unsplash

I stand on the edge of a precipice, balanced precariously on one foot, my hands stretched out like the wings of a large bird as I prepare to step off or to fly. I begin my fool’s journey. The critical first step that will shape my path ahead. Do I make it or do I not? There’s no way to know until I make the choice.

What if I don’t? What if my past thrusts me into frozen inactivity? I’m not the fool now but a tragic hero whose journey is stalled because of the haunting memories of when I jumped and failed. And failed badly.

But we know that the hero must go on this journey. For her to move from shame to redemption. From fear to courage. From vulnerability to fortitude. 

That Thing called SHAME

Shame is one of the most intense and agonising of human emotions. Shame is relentlessly numbing, pitilessly debilitating. Those moments when shame becomes us, we want to dig the ground beneath us to slither into the execution chambers of a deep, dark world or vanish into thin air than face the ignominy of what we did.

Shame because we chose to expose our vulnerabilities or because we failed miserably or because we acted totally out of character and fell flat on our faces where our actions were misunderstood, though we were well-meaning. Things that we all go through in life at some point of time or the other.

The tragedy is, the shame cauldron boils over with a multitude of toxic emotions such as fear, anxiety, guilt, self-pity, bitterness, low self-esteem, regret, and anger, each transforming into hatred for others because it’s easier to blame someone else for how we’re feeling. It’s easier than accepting responsibility.

Here’s when mindfulness becomes key to our transformation. It enables us to stay focused on the road ahead and ensures that those occasional glances at the rear view mirror do not stultify us into hitting the brakes but serve to inform our onward journey.

The Transformative Effect of Mindfulness

At the start of the year, I made a resolution to start living mindfully by clearing the mental clutter and all feelings of fear, shame and anxiety. I decided to meditate more, stop to reflect on my thoughts and feelings more, constantly acknowledging what and how I felt. 

The crucial aspect in this process was the pristine awareness that I am the heart of my universe and no change is ever conceivable without me propelling it from within. If life is nothing but perceptions, then I’m going to be the enabler of how I’m perceived by the world around me, rather than let myself be limited by what I see, how I am seen, and what’s thrown at me. It starts with me believing in myself, accepting what I see of myself without judgement, being honest about where I want to be, and how I can get there.

Here’s when the amazing power of synchronicity led me to reading two wonderful books: BIG LOVE by Scott Stabile and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown which reaffirmed for me why we choose love over everything else and why embracing vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. Some of the world’s greatest people inspire us by letting us see how vulnerable they are. That’s what makes them human and their accomplishments attainable. If they can, we can. You need to have great guts to face your own shame to make it disappear. It’s scary, but believe me, it’s liberating.

“The difference between I am a screwup and I screwed up may look small, but in fact it’s huge. Many of us will spend our entire lives trying to slog through the shame swampland to get to a place where we can give ourselves permission to both be imperfect and believe we are enough.” Brene Brown

Five lessons from my experiment with mindful living


1. ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY

Love who you are. If you don’t, who will? I hold myself singularly responsible for how I feel. Instead of holding feelings of hate or anger against people who I thought did me wrong, I started reflecting on why I was having those feelings in the first place. That pointed to an exigent need for me to overcome my own insecurities and fears, my own feelings of being inadequate, and my own sense of looking for validation from others.

It made me refocus on my positives and remain patient to allow the changes I envision to manifest in my physical life. I am what I think, so, I have to ‘be’ it to ‘become’ it.

2. RECOGNISE WHO YOU’RE NOT BY STAYING AUTHENTIC

The Sanskrit expression, ‘neti neti’, a keynote of vedic inquiry, literally translates to ‘not this, not this’. It’s an analytical mode of arriving at something through a process of negation. I eliminate what I am not which helps me define what’s important to me. People will pontificate that you must know where you should be at a certain age or be clear about what you want to do, pretty much all the time. Some of us have the answers right from when we started to walk or to go to school, but for many of us, it takes longer. It happens according to our time and our individual clocks, not somebody else’s.

3. BE OPEN TO LEARNING

My consciousness has expanded. To include everyone in it. Rather than excluding them by feeling bitterness or assigning blame. There is almost a Zen-like calm within me that is more accepting of me and of others without expectations of how someone should behave for me to like them or be around. How realistic is it for us to expect everyone to behave the way we ‘want’ them to? Or to hold our own values as the yardstick to judge how everyone else should lead their lives?

I also realise that everyone I meet, however inconsequential I may have thought of a passing acquaintance, is orchestrated by the universe for me to learn something. We are more connected than we think. If we care to learn and to observe, we will comprehend that our briefest of interactions offers the profoundest of lessons helping shape the person we are today.

4. BE BETTER AT BECOMING BETTER

I’ve learnt not to overthink stuff or speculate on what others think of me. As Jordan Peterson writes in 12 Rules for Life, “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.” I’m proud to be ‘me’ now – what I did in the past does not define me. I have graduated to becoming a better human being. You may not know that the person you met yesterday has transformed into the person that I am today for your memories of me are stuck to an old version of me. That’s perfectly okay. You are entitled to your judgements of me even if they are inaccurate.

5. KNOW THAT YOU’RE ENOUGH

Regret is a wasted emotion – we can’t undo anything we did or change the course of what happened or judge our past actions with the wisdom that we have today. Only, we can be wiser in the future. 

So, whenever the evil fearmongering monster inside of me drags me down into the quicksand of self-defeating, nihilistic thoughts, I remember that if I did not intend or do any harm, I must feel secure and comforted in the thought that I did good. If I had known better, I would have done better. I’m as perfect as they come, or as imperfect, probably perfectly imperfect!

The Soul Reboot

As I look back at who I was when I started this journey at the beginning of the year, I see a faint shadow of what seems vaguely familiar now. Chipping away a mere 10-20 minutes of my time to meditate every morning and living mindfully have had a transformative effect on me in the way I think and feel. The quieter I become, the more I hear with great clarity.

I am on the path to something greater than myself. Let me start by seeing myself there, manifest my reality, believe each moment that I have arrived, and trust that there’s no place to be but here. 

Of course, there are days when the doubting Thomases return, but with relentless practice, I’ve learnt to turn them away.

While I meditate, my mind doesn’t stay still. And that’s not even the goal. But what I do achieve is the awareness of what thoughts I’m having. In the acute awareness of those thoughts, I’m able to deftly push away each that is unimportant with remarkable sleight of hand and focus on something that I need.

When the task is what my mind is on, it reduces the time that I have to spend on completing anything. Amazingly, time shrinks and expands at the same moment allowing me more time for everything that I’ve ever wanted to do because I have given myself more cognitive bandwidth at any particular moment to what I’m doing.I work better, I think better. A surge of productivity is the reward that razor-sharp focus accords to me. That’s the benefit of meditation and the direct consequence of living mindfully.

Working on ourselves is a life-long journey. It’s not easy, never easy. The only hope is that we are better today as human beings than we were yesterday. Better at being a constructive, not a destructive, force to be around. As I look at myself in the mirror every morning to say, ‘hello gorgeous’, I know that I have more than survived. I thrive. I face my fears every day but I’m a fool to jump right in.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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