PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES TO SUPPORT MENTAL HEALTH
By Serge Beddington-Behrens, MA (Oxon.)Ph.D.
Anxiety is a universal phenomenon and is a natural emotional response to an external situation perceived as threatening. Today, there are many triggers for anxiety that affect areas where we are most vulnerable—as with covid and climate change which threaten our survival. Though different for each of us, such circumstances can impact our ability to connect and be intimate with others, jeopardize our lifestyles, our ability to move about the world and potentially to advance ourselves economically.
Different cultures react to anxiety in different ways. I’ll give a few generalizations. For example, many Americans have a ‘can do’, solution-oriented mindset which does not work well on situations like this one, where no one knows what the future will bring. Western Europeans, on the other hand, tend to be more accepting of what is, and embrace more of an attitude of ‘this is how it is’. French are more relaxed and like a glass of wine, Russians deal with stress by enjoying a sauna, while Argentinians, Swedes and Danes place a lot of focus on social contact. In Thailand, massage is a big stress reducer, and in Buddhist countries, mindfulness meditation is widely practiced. A friend who has lived in Japan for a long time told me that they have one of the best antidotes against Covid/Climate-induced anxiety, namely, that they are much more aware of the sacredness of the now and are more easily able to appreciate the beauty around them. I think this is very important.
That said, despite our nationalities, people are people and much the same things upset and delight us and I think that what is of prime importance is not so much our external culture but our inner culture—how inwardly resilient we are. There is no doubt that some of us seem able to take the Corona virus and navigating re-socializing more in their stride than others. Perhaps being well educated helps, as the chances are you might have a bit of money stored away for a rainy day or be more resourceful in the face of job loss.
People who have a naturally ‘strong character’, i.e., don’t get bowled over by strong winds, are emotionally mature and philosophical or have cultivated a spiritual outlook on life, also do well. As do those who feel secure within themselves and have a strong and supportive family and social network. It is much harder for people who are not graced with the above attributes. If we tend to feel inwardly insecure and isolated, and don’t have much of an inner life to fall back on, societal shifts and uncertainty about the future are very hard to live with.
Whatever your status in the world, the following seven things will help you to address your fears and anxieties.
ONE: Talking with wise people who will help us be more accepting of uncertainty and who will also assist us to build up our inner strength and thus be more accepting of whichever way the cookie chooses to crumble.
TWO: Making sure we keep physically fit, as exercise produces endorphins that keep the blues at bay. Go running or bicycling or take up something like yoga. You will feel so much better. Do not couch potato your life and spend hours lying on the sofa watching crappie television. This will only ‘up’ the anxiety.
THREE: We need to feed our intellect and heart with good soul food. Read some of the great classics like War and Peace or Middlemarch and listen to wonderful concerts on YouTube. Bach’s B minor Mass, Pachabel’s great Canon in D, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, etc. High culture expands us and the more we are expanded, the less room for anxiety.
FOUR: Use the time to do things that delight you—learning the guitar, zooming with friends, developing your cooking skills, discovering the ‘writer’ inside you. Many of us have turned ourselves into human doings and this brings stress and anxiety. See difficult times as a gift, to help you re-discover your identity as a human being!
FIVE: Learn to meditate, there any online courses. It calms us and opens up our capacity for mindfulness, where we quickly become more harmonious and less jittery and are able to exist more ‘in the now’ or be more presently aware, which means we are less anxious about what the future might bring. Indeed, the more we exist in present awareness, the more we are endowed with a certain kind of peace and power which again is a wonderful antidote against anxiety.
SIX: We can do a ‘gratitude process’ which involves closing our eyes and listing in our mind all the things in our lives we are grateful for. This enables us to give much more energy to what we actually have and how rich our lives may actually be, as opposed to investing so much of our thinking into what our circumstances may be depriving us of.
SEVEN: We can do a lot of specifically heart-opening meditations and connect with our deeper human qualities. For example, we can connect with our inner compassion; we can visualise ourselves sending love, say, to our children whom we can’t see as they are marooned at the other end of the world. We can be kind to our neighbours, and if old and lonely people live near us, we can go and talk to them (respectfing any social distancing for their health) or go and buy food for them. Random acts of kindness will always fill our hearts with joy and so do a huge amount to tone down our anxiety.
If you have found these tools valuable, please share them with someone who could use support for their mental well-being.
I also invite you to checkout my book ‘Gateways to the Soul: Inner Work for the Outter World’, to explore more deeply the concepts I’ve introduced in this article.
ABOUT THE BOOK AND AUTHOR
Humanity is in a great crisis of soul today, but there is also much good will around. As a species, we are challenged to start embracing a new story, one that enables us to be less greedy and materialistic and to espouse peace not war, kindness not cruelty, and heart as opposed to indifference. What we need is to bring more soul into the world.
In this guide about engaging in inner work to bring change into the world, Dr. Serge Beddington-Behrens reveals how the healing of our personal wounds combined with the growing of our soul life leads us directly to the addressing of world problems. Sharing inspirational stories from his own personal journey of becoming a transpersonal psychotherapist, shaman, and activist, he shows you how, by transforming your inner world, you begin creating important positive ripples that reverberate around all areas of your outer one.
The exercises and meditations he has devised will not only help you heal and become more fully human but also enable you to bring a very different kind of awareness–a sacred awareness–into all areas of your everyday life. Not only will this enable you to experience more joy and meaning as you increasingly disconnect from the clutches of the system, but you will also find yourself opening your heart, reclaiming your personal power, bringing in new myths for humanity to live by, and gradually shifting away from being part of the problems in the world to becoming a core part of their solution.
Dr. Serge Obolensky Beddington-Behrens, MA (Oxon.), Ph.D., K.S.M.L., is an Oxford-educated transpersonal psychotherapist, shaman, activist, and spiritual educator. In 2000 he was awarded an Italian knighthood for services to humanity. For forty years he has conducted spiritual retreats all over the world. In the 1980s, he cofounded the Institute for the Study of Conscious Evolution in San Francisco. The author of Awakening the Universal Heart, he divides his time between London and Mallorca.