It’s fair to say that most of us experience worries, anxieties and fears throughout our life. It doesn’t matter how “good” or “bad” things are going, there will generally always be something that comes up.
And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it kept us alive for hundreds of thousands of years after all. It’s only more recently that we have the privilege of living in the comfort of an airconditioned home.
Food is available on tap, probably a bit too convenient for the most part. We rarely have to go out hunting our own food let alone even growing our own food.
While it is true that we have some security issues. If we are living paycheque to paycheque then we are at risk of potentially losing our comforts. But even then, we may have family, friends or government social supports.
So what does our caveman mind – something that evolved over hundreds of thousands of years do when it’s the only job is taken away from it? It starts to self-assign jobs to itself, in the form of worries, anxieties and fears.
Now our ancient worries and fears become modern worries and fears. Based around perceived fears such as job security, relationship insecurities and social status.
The Sport of Fly Fishing
Now let me digress just for a moment to what is seemingly a completely offtopic subject – the sport of flyfishing.
If you are unfamiliar with fly fishing, it’s very similar to normal fishing however a fly fisherman uses a crafty imitation fly attached to a hook to trick the fish into believing it has an easy dinner waiting.
The flyfisherman casts the fly out to the surface of the water where he suspects fish to be waiting and patiently lets it float, using gentle movements to lure the fish in.
When the fish – eagerly waiting for its next meal sees the fly land it strikes and gets caught by the hook stealthily disguised in amongst the imitation fly.
No matter how hard the fish struggles, the barb on the hook prevents it from coming out the fishes mouth. The more it struggles, the deeper the hook goes until finally, the fish becomes dinner for the fisherman – or at the very least a victim of catch and release.
The Fly Fishing Mind
Now to get back on track, you might be wondering what does this have to do with my worries, anxieties and fears?
Well imagine for a moment that you are a fish, and your mind is a fly fisherman. Every moment of every day the mind is causing out potential flies.
If you are sitting beneath the surface of the water, ready to strike you may unknowingly strike at these imitation flies.
Just as with fishing, the young, inexperienced are more likely to get hooked. They are simply unaware that something much bigger than them is out to trick them.
But the good news is, being aware is the first step towards gaining experience. If instead of striking at every thought, you simply sat and observed, watching what it does you will be less likely to end up as dinner.
Remember that unlike the fisherman, the mind doesn’t need to eat or sleep. It’s like the terminator of fly fisherman. It will sit there casting potential thoughts to lure you in all day, every day. It’s almost relentless.
So given we are human and not perfect we will naturally fall for the trick sometimes and get hooked. We will latch on to that fly-hook with a tight grip like it’s a meal you absolutely can’t resist.
However, there is one more important distinction between the mind and the fly fisherman. The minds lures are using barbless hooks.
If you remember with the fish, the more they struggle the more they get hooked. And this generally applies to how humans react to thoughts too.
But what if in your new observer role you looked closer at the hook? Once you see there is no barb there is a powerful realisation available.
You can simply let go. Without a barb, there is absolutely nothing forcing you to hold on to the hook apart from your own desire to struggle with it.
By observing the lure from afar, over time you will greatly improve your ability to not get hooked. But that’s not where the true power comes from.
Even Dr Russ Harris – ACT therapist and author of The Happiness Trap still gets hooked frequently after decades of experience.
The true power comes from the realisation that knowing when you are hooked you can simply let go and continue swimming through life.
So next time you find yourself in the midst of emotional turmoil try and step back for just a moment and ask yourself do I need to keep holding on to these thoughts or can I simply let go, and allow my experience to change?