ASK ABDI: HOW DO I DEAL WITH THE INNER VOICE THAT BEATS ME UP?
QUESTION: I came across your work a few years ago through the movie, Wake Up, and it took me quite a while to be ready to more seriously delve into your podcasts, blog posts, and book, Shadows on the Path, which have ultimately led me to the reluctant willingness to just sit with my anxiety. It is probably the single most important advice I have ever gotten and certainly one you don’t hear too often. I have benefited from your work beyond measure and am very grateful.
Now that I’m strong/aware enough to sit with the anxiety and the million voices that are yelling in my head - and not dissociate, numb, or distract myself - I still struggle with the voice that beats me up and says that I am wasting my life, that I might, in fact, be mentally ill rather than awake, that my inability to function at times (often) is my fault and a product of something I’m not doing (some practice, diet, allowing myself to be negative), and that the changes in my priorities and personality after undergoing radical shifts in my perception of reality put me at a disadvantage and impede my ability to perform as well as my peers career-wise (I can no longer tolerate the corporate world after the shift happened; I used to be type A personality). As I write this, I know that this voice is a lie, yet I still fall for it and hurt myself. I know you’ll say just to sit with it, but any insight would be greatly appreciated.
ANSWER: Thank you for your kind words, I am happy that the work has been helpful. That warms my heart deeply.
So you are perfectly on time. Taking "quite a while to be ready to more seriously delve" into spiritual work is how it is for many of us. The "reluctant willingness to just sit with my anxiety" is probably the hardest part of the journey. We are all so terrorized by the anxiety, on an unconscious level, that we will do anything not to feel it, including delving into spirituality. I am thrilled for you that you have managed to break through this barrier. The ability to truly sit and be with ourselves is the key that unlocks all. Sounds easy enough, as you know it does take some doing to be able to do that. And to keep at it. And at it. And at it...
Remember always that this path is a process and it has its own rhythm for all of us. Even when we get strong enough "to sit with the anxiety and the million voices that are yelling in our heads" there will be a part of us that will hold on to the old. It will take any foothold it can, be it pain or negative pleasure, to hold on to the status quo. It is all that we know and we do not want to risk the chains of the known for the freedom of the unknown. This is true no matter how much pain is involved in our current situation which made us seek spirituality in the first place. But we can not be just a little pregnant, so we have to dive into the unknown at some point.
The knowledge that one is absolutely not in control is terrifying business to the ego. So it will hold on. And in your case, even though as you write you "know that this voice is a lie", you "still fall for it". Now you are aware of the two voices: the one that knows and the one that pretends to know and hurts you. This is huge that you can identify the difference, do not underestimate this awareness that is within you.
This next step is about teasing out the nuances of the two voices. Befriend that deep knowing one and lovingly step back from the negative pleasure of the painful one. Releasing our old patterns with grace and love are part and parcel of waking up. It does take time, so be gentle. But also be firm. Be aware of the pain that the one voice causes and work on not feeding into it.
If you think people don't talk enough about the importance of sitting with anxiety, know that it is even more profound how little the difficulty of a thawing heart is discussed. One of the fallacies of the New Age movement is the vague idea that spirituality is somehow an elixir for success and material abundance. It, of course, makes sense that a philosophy reflects the culture it has grown in. We live in a culture where material success reigns supreme with no regard to what it does to body, mind, and spirit. And we are all suffering deeply for it.
So somehow there is this belief that as we wake up, life becomes easier. Well, it does internally for sure as there is more serenity. But it can actually get quite a bit more difficult externally. Some of us will not be able to tolerate certain situations, people, foods, etc. There will be a recalibration of what feeds us and what poisons us because we will no longer be numb. It is just that the "us" with the sharp edges softens, so we do not get as triggered or stuck. This is why you "can no longer tolerate the corporate world after the shift happened". But you have no choice but to continue forward. Work with a therapist if need be, so you are not grasping in the dark, if that is the case. Get to the root of this voice and its need to inflict pain on you. It is not a matter of just sitting with it. Work on identifying this negative voice and then integrating the energy that has been disowned. The fact that you can distinguish between the two voices is the thread that will unfurl the yarn ball. You got this. Reach out for help if need be. Keep vigilant and kind as you heal this piece of your wounding.