My goal for my book, The Anxiety Dharma, has always been to help as many people as I can by sharing my story, my challenges, and my struggle so that you can see that you are not alone. But more importantly, I want to share the idea that, even if you feel like you have no options, there is something you can do to change your life for the better. And since you don’t know me and I don’t know you, let me offer this free sample of my book so you can see if it might be something you want to check out.
I always wanted to be a father. As far back as I could remember, I wanted to have children. So, you would naturally assume that in June 2006, when my daughter, Lilianne, was born, it would have been the happiest moment of my life. And in many ways, it was.
My entire life up had been building to this. Up until that point, I had successfully checked off many of the to-do items from my “happy life” checklist:
Get a job: Check.
Get married: Check.
Buy a home: Check.
Have a child: Check.
This was all supposed to make me happy, right? It was all meant to fill in the gaps and finish the perfect picture that was my life. It was everything I ever wanted and had been working toward. But, in the excitement and joy of that moment, something felt wrong. Something felt incomplete.
They say everything changes when you have a child. That was certainly true for me. I guess how much things change greatly depends on where you are in life at the time. I thought I knew a lot about who I was before my daughter was born. I thought I had a pretty decent handle on the direction my life was heading. But what I didn’t realize was that it was all about to change.
I love the analogy of a sweater with a loose thread. That once you begin to pull on that thread, the entire sweater begins to unravel.
This was my life: a sweater with a loose thread. That loose thread always seemed to be there. Every major life choice I made, that thread was there, sticking out, begging to be pulled. In the days and months after my daughter was born, I felt that thread gain. It was the feeling that something was wrong. I always knew that thread existed. But either consciously or subconsciously, I never dared pull it.
It is often said that we make all life decisions from either a place of love or fear. I thought the reason I never pulled that thread was out of love. The love I felt for the people in my life: my wife, my parents, my brothers and sister, my friends. I never wanted them to feel hurt, suffer, or feel sadness or pain. But in truth, I never pulled that thread because of fear.
I was afraid of what I might find when that thread began to unravel. That sweater was my protection, not theirs. It shielded me from the outside world. I built it. I created it. I needed to keep it intact because it shielded me from everything I told myself I was shielding others from. Pain. Sadness. Hurt.
It represented every choice I ever made and every belief I ever had. If I didn’t have that sweater, who would I be? I would be naked. I would be left out, exposed to the world. Others might see that my choices were not correct or that my beliefs couldn’t hold up to their scrutiny. The idea of being judged was a fate far worse than death to me. I had spent years crafting the story that now had become my life. It was careful. It was meticulous. It was safe. If I didn’t have that, what did I have? Who would I be?
The thing about love and fear is that they are both very powerful. And whichever one has the strongest hold over your heart makes the majority of decisions. My entire life had been built with a fearful heart. I hadn’t taken any risks. I had always taken the safe path whenever it was presented.
That didn’t mean I always chose the path with the greatest chance for success. It meant I chose the path that represented the least amount of discomfort. I was afraid of hurting and feeling uncomfortable. But it’s surprising how comfortable you can become with things that don’t make you feel happy or inspired. Growth requires risk and feeling uncomfortable. When you avoid those things, you stifle your ability to learn, expand, and love. You stifle the very things that make life worth living.
When that fear takes over your life, it has a name. It’s called anxiety. I suffered from anxiety my entire life. From my years as a child, through my teenage years and into my adult life, anxiety had always been there. I just didn’t know it had a name, or that it was a disorder. I didn’t know how powerful it could be.
In my mind, this feeling was just… life. I thought this was how my mind worked, how my life was. My days were narrated by a negative, worried stream of thoughts, critiquing my every action and desire. Each moment was analyzed, each dream minimized. I thought there was something wrong with me. That somehow in the great lottery of life, I had been given a losing ticket. I had been cursed with a mind that looked at life not like an adventure to be enjoyed but as a suffrage to be endured.
My mind told me I was weak, flawed, worthless, stupid, talentless, lazy, and unworthy of truly being happy. It was as if my suffering was a sort of penance, that I had to live with in order to eventually earn happiness. That once I obtained a collection of the right things in life, this cloud would lift and I would feel happiness. But deep inside, I didn’t believe that. I had decided this was the way life felt: a dull ache in the pit of my stomach, as if something bad was about to happen and there was nothing I could do to avoid it.
This is how anxiety makes you feel.
As I held my daughter in my arms, something shifted in me. That shift, I now understand, was the shift from fear to love. For the first time, the feeling of love had a stronger hold over my heart than fear. Looking down at this little, perfect person who had no choice but to love and trust me completely, I became filled by the power of this love. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt in such a long time, not since I was small child. To me, love had always been tethered to pain. For every love you gained you owed something in return. But this love was not like that. This love was pure and easy. It flowed naturally and effortlessly.
She could do no wrong in my eyes. There was nothing my child could do or say, no choice she could make in life that would cause me not to love her with all my heart. In that moment of understanding, my mind became flooded with questions. Was I ever this perfect? Did my parents look at me like I looked at her? What had I done to make me no longer feel worthy of receiving this kind of love? Had I done anything at all?
Then fear crept in. What if she becomes anxious like me? What if she someday feels unworthy of love like I have? What would I tell her? How would I help her conquer the fear, negativity, and suffering that I had never been able to overcome?
This powerful stream of questioning aligned with the feeling of love, compelling me to do something I never wanted to do before. Something I had to do now, not for myself, but for her. I had no choice.
It was time to pull the thread.
I needed to understand how I had gone from being a perfect little child who could do no wrong, to a person who felt completely unworthy of receiving the unconditional love I was feeling for my daughter.
This book is a collection of everything that transpired before, during, and after I made that shift from fear to love. My hope is that sharing my experiences will serve as a guide for you to make your own shift, not because I tell you something but because you learn to see it within yourself. I’ve learned so much over the years thanks to my anxiety. They say, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Once I learned to look at my life through a different lens, my anxiety became my greatest teacher.
That is why I decided to name this book The Anxiety Dharma, because the lessons I have learned from struggling to overcome my fear and anxiety are lessons that anyone can learn. If you suffer from anxiety, you have a great teacher inside you. Your anxiety can become a great source of inspiration, motivation, and understanding, opening you up to a new world of possibilities. A world that, until this point, has probably felt outside of your grasp. I’m here to tell you, you can grasp it!
What this book is not is a way to learn to hack your anxiety. It’s not about quick fixes, shortcuts or easy tricks to make it go away.
I’ve tried many of those tricks. I’ve even had some level of success using the techniques taught in those types of books. But any positive experiences I’ve had only lasted for a short period of time. That was because anxiety is only a symptom of a deeper issue needing to be addressed. Like a headache or sore throat, anxiety points to a measurement of “dis-ease” that needs to be discovered and treated.
Unless you do the work to uncover the cause of your anxiety, any short-term success will eventually give way to new patterns or a re-occurrence of old symptoms. You need to address the root cause.
The tips and tools in this book are taught in conjunction with learning to change the views you’ve been taught and how you’ve been programmed to see your world. This is the most critical and difficult part of overcoming your anxiety.
In order to wake up to the idea that you can change your anxiety and fear into love, you must first allow yourself to be open to seeing how your life, worldviews, and perspective all work to keep you trapped in this way of thinking.
Your ego and your social conditioning will try and convince you that the world is the way it is and that your fear is based in reality and truth. That you should fear the world because it’s a dark and dangerous place filled with bad people looking to do you harm. I’m here to tell you that, while this statement isn’t false, it is only partially true. The world is filled with just as much light, with good people looking to help. How you focus your perspective is what causes you to see only one or the other.
Our thoughts and fears work to trick us into believing one over the other. My hope is that this book will open your heart and your mind to the idea that both are possible, and it’s my personal experience that we are far more in control of these outcomes than we even know.
We are the creators of our world. We can choose to either create from a place of love or a place of fear. I want to help you learn to create from a place of love. But you must first learn how. And your anxiety is trying to teach you exactly that.
I welcome you to begin this journey with me. I promise that once you read this book and adopt just one of its teachings to your everyday practice, you will experience a change in your life. A change that will shift you from fear to love.