What if I told you that putting belief in something outside of yourself could cure your anxiety? You’d probably think I was trying to convert you to some sort of religion. But when you break it down, religion itself is just a symbol, and any symbol, if you believe in it, has the power to heal.
As someone who has a natural leaning towards the often crippling panic state that is anxiety, I know the power of belief all too well. You believe you’re falling, failing, ugly, unsafe, stupid, stuck – these negative beliefs, phobias and worries plague us all from time to time and the result is often a physical state of panic that’s impossible to shake.
But that cascading surge of negative thoughts which cycle in and out of our brains in a kaleidoscope of perceived danger can be tamed, and I’ve found that the solution usually brings us back around to belief again, just a different, more positive and tangible kind.
Now I’m not suggesting the often ill-advised view that ‘you will be ok’ – anyone with anxiety knows that this really doesn’t help much; you know deep down it’s true but it’s impossible to process at the time.
That’s because by itself, belief is a flimsy notion of hope – a kind of “chin up everything’s going to be ok” attitude which often doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but when combined with a symbol – a God, a totem, a mythology, it concretes the idea in our minds and gives us something solid to hang our hopes on.
Let’s think about Christianity, one of the world’s most popular religions. Whether you ascribe to it or not, it’s hard to deny that it does help people. The belief that God has your back is somewhat comforting, it gives a sense of relief and security that allows us to go forth without fear; a kind of spiritual safety net which people without belief often lack.
Here’s something that not everyone will agree with: The Christian idea of God is just a symbol.
Some omnipotent, patriarchal guy with a big bushy beard is going to look out for you, he’s the father of everything and therefore your eternal guardian; a spiritual replacement for your own parental care. As a child, our decisions are made for us, we’re cared for and clothed and we know that if we fall, our parents will be there to catch us. When we get older, these responsibilities fall onto us, often leaving us in a state of despair that if we fail, there is no one waiting to save us.
But you don’t have to believe in God as a bearded figure in the sky to create your own spiritual safety net. Meaningful symbols such as the Christian concept of God can take any form, big or small.
You can ascribe to a religion, any religion, if that’s what feels right, but for many it doesn’t, so it’s important to create our own beliefs, however small and however abstract.
Here’s a rather abstract one of my own:
My anxieties have come in many shapes and forms over the years, one of the more recent ones being an intense fear of heights.
Recently on a trip to North Wales, I felt this flavour of anxiety in all its glory while walking along a clifftop path. The sight of an incredible waterfall wasn’t enough to distract me from the sheer 100ft drop on the left of me and I dissolved into vertigo, tears and that familiar harsh buzzing sensation that leaves your whole body feeling like a bowl of jelly filled with electric eels.
As I stood bent over double, facing away from the drop that had convinced me of my own looming death, I noticed a perfectly square rock lying on the ground in front of me.
My mind immediately associated it with the symbol of the material world – a square. The four elemental lines in perfect right angle degrees with each other; an ancient esoteric symbol for the physical plane of existence, the very ground I stood on.
As soon as I picked up that square piece of slate I knew I would be ok. I carried it in my pocket and touched it whenever I felt the familiar nausea rise. Because of that rock, I made it along that steep cliff side path and I actually enjoyed it.
Now obviously this wasn’t a magic rock that I’d found out in the Welsh countryside and it wasn’t even the rock itself that had lowered my blood pressure and quietened my panic, it was the sheer power of my belief that I would be ok.
Belief in my own security, transferred onto a tangible and solid symbol that I could see and feel, was the key to taming my anxiety at that moment.
The same can be said of Gods and Goddesses, parents, even doctors. You often hear of people defying medical opinion and curing their cancer, simply by believing they would.
Everything you see around you has a symbolic reference, whether it’s universal like the idea that seeing a robin is a sign of positive change, or the confidence brought on by wearing your lucky pants, or a different meaning entirely personal to you.
All these concepts are just that – symbols – they work entirely on belief. If you believe something to be, then it is. If I think a brown crystal gives me strength and grounding, it does. If I believe that seeing a solo magpie or walking under a ladder is unlucky then I will have bad luck. These things in themselves are not magical, they have no power over me other than the power I give them. They are totems, and when we fill them with our belief, they take on a numinous and healing quality.
The more we collect these personal symbols of belief, the more our lives have meaning and hope, and when our lives have hope we are free to pursue our dreams without anxiety, knowing that something, somewhere has our back – whether that’s a God, an animal, or just a little piece of square rock.
Do you have any personal symbols which help you?
Featured image: Fredrick Clay Bartlett
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