[Via e-mail:]

Dear Marnix,

Let me ask you something: do you practice meditation? What kind?

I do cognitive behaviour therapy but I have to confess that I am myself in a rough moment of my life. I am same the age as you and for the first time in my life I feel a lot of anxiety. I have always been a bit neurotic (bit of a worrier) but I thought I had it under control with my own therapy; even super well! But now -after a romantic rupture- I am not recovering. I have this anxiety all day.

I have never done meditation because it seems to be so long to notice the effects…


Dear S.,

Let’s get rid of the anxiety right away, shall we?

I’m really sorry to hear about your current feelings. But I’m not worried at all.

Let me tell you why, in a second. But first let me answer your question (and we’ll get to the rest in a natural way).

Yes I meditated quite a lot. And yes it doesn’t really matter.

Still, meditation helped me see and realize that all thoughts come and go, and that there is something that witnesses them.

The thoughts change, but the witness never does.

And this witness is who you truly are. It can’t be harmed, shattered, broken, or damaged in any way. It’s 100% healthy all the time.

I kwow about the fear. Troughout our life we have experiences, and one of those is the experience of anxiety. This is nothing more than particular stressfull or anxious thoughts, combined with a feeling in your body.

But you are not your fear, and you never will be.

When you were young you didn’t have the fear all the time, in 2016 you didn’t have it, and I bet that right now, while reading this, you don’t have it as well. You don’t have it constantly, and certainly not all your life.

So it’s not who you are.

The fear just comes and goes.

It’s just an uncomfortable experience we buy into, and started calling anxiety. This belief is the only thing that gives it any relevance and actually makes it worse. It’s not the experience itself and it’s not the thoughts or the feelings, it’s the fact that we believe something REALLY bad is going to happen.

This false idea starts a train of thoughts and feelings which goes faster and faster until we’re sure it will drive us crazy!

But it’s not going to happen. We will be fine.

Every mental problem we can have as a human being, EVERY single one, is caused by the fact that we feel everything we think. And nobody ever told us we don’t have to do anything with or about that!

We have this automatic tendency to invest a lot of energy in specific thoughts or emotions, which makes the experience extremely real and many times worse than it was at the beginning.

But remember: every experience comes and goes.

Every thought comes and goes. No exception.

You are always just óne thought away from feeling safe and secure.

I have been suffering from anxiety and panic attacks for more than fifteen years, and they’re completely gone.

Why? Because I don’t believe them anymore.

Yes I still have times that I get nervous or uncomfortable, but I no longer invest any energy in the familiar thought ‘oh no, something bad is going to happen, I am going to faint, my heart will explode, THIS IS THE END!!’.

It’s all just bullshit, innocent. But since it can be very overwhelming and convincing, we think we háve to feel resistance. We fight it. And we fear it.

We fear the fear, which makes something out of nothing. It’s the only thing that causes what is called an ‘anxiety disorder’. It fuels the small fire which, as long as we just let it be, will never be able to harm us.

A few weeks ago I talked to a woman with an anxiety history of more than 20 years. It completely controlled her life. All the therapists had told her she’d never ever be free from the panic and fear, and that was her truth. I told her they were wrong, and after an hour she realized the big mistake she had made: she was just used to believing the fact that she was sick and beyond healing. She just believed that she had to do something with the anxious thoughts or the uncomfortable feeling. And the moment she realized there was no obligation to listen to the thoughts or get stressed out by the discomfort, the spell was broken.

She just doesn’t believe in them anymore, so they lost their power.

Yes, it’s that easy.

Sure, I get uncomfortable feelings once in a while. And so will she. But that’s just life. Doesn’t bother me at all. Whenever I get anxious experiences, I just hold still, relax, and let them be. They’re just like the neighbors you don’t really like, which pass by your window once in a while and sometimes look inside. They may be a nuisance, but they’re not the enemy: these experiences are just your system telling you that you’re in a low mood, that you’re thinking negative and stressful thoughts.

So let them pass. Let them go.

No thought has or will ever have the possibility to hurt you, it’s literally impossible, even though it can feel that way!

I know about the biological madness that sometimes makes it very scary and real, but it’s always just your brain getting your body ready to fight or flight when it’s not very useful. If you don’t invest in that experience when you feel it coming up, it will be gone in less than five minutes. This is the time your body needs to dissolve the chemicals that create the illusion of panic.

It IS just an illusion S! It’s just a bit uncomfortable, and only gets worse if you invest energy in it, if you give it attention. But if you just stay with the feeling without putting gasoline on the fire, it will only last a short time. I promise!

So back to meditation.

You can do it, or you don’t. Just don’t expect your life to change. Don’t expect ANYTYHING from it. It’s just a pretty good way to get to know ‘the observer’, and to learn about the fact that thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky.

If you want to experience that: yes, sure, go and sit in silence for a while, just observe what happens in your mind and body... and you’re meditating!

But if you think meditation will change your life and make you happy, don’t go there. I know many, many people who use it as a way to escape their daily lives (and some of them literally meditate for hours every day), which actually underlines the false assumption that daily life is something to fear.

It’s not!

And even though you’re in a rough spot right now, it’s all just a world of ongoing stories in your head, and the story WILL change.

Besides, you are not your stories.

You are not your thoughts.

You are not the feelings that accompany all the thinking.

You’re just EXPERIENCING them.

It’s very simple: the only thing you have to do is get a connection with your True Self, the observer, the witness. There you’ll find all the strength and optimism and creativity you need. You don’t have to meditate for that to happen, or stay in a monastery in Thailand or in the Himalayas: the observer is always with you, and you can feel it and make contact with it automatically as soon as you lose yourself in something you love to do, from listening to music to running, or watching a sunset or listening really deeply to a friend.

Just be the observer, and you’ll discover that you’re unbreakable.

The only reason you think that life sucks right now, is that you think it :)

Stop believing it and you’re free!

Best regards,


Oh, just one more thing: you mentioned your skills in cognitive based therapy.

That can be helpful, but it has a REALLY big flaw: it’s all about changing the content of your thoughts. Which you cán do, a little bit and with a lot of hard work, but which is totally not the solution and a waste of time.

It’s not about the content or the feeling of your thoughts.

It’s about your relationship with them.

If you realize that you never have to believe what you think, the content doesn’t matter anymore. No matter what you think, it’s not able to get to you.

You see, it takes a lot of work to change your mindset, to even marginally change what you think, and it takes even more work to change your behavior. But seeing that you have no obligation to do anything with your thoughts gives you freedom straight away, right this minute!

Let me give you an example: sometimes I think really fucked up things. For instance, I’m in a restaurant, watch the waiter and think ‘what would happen if I stick a fork in his eye?’.

Of course I don’t act on this thought, because I know it’s ridiculous and will probably get me into prison. I just ignore the thought, so it can leave.

How? I just do. That’s all.

I don’t give it any serious attention, and it fades away quickly. We do this all the time with most of our thoughts. We have the skills: you just need to use them a little bit more, and especially on thoughts that are complicated for you right now.

The good news? Every thought is just a thought. Whether it’s about sticking a fork in someone’s eye or thinking about dying, sex, or your ex-girlfriend.

No thought is bigger or stronger than another one. Except if we believe it is.

And you don’t have to.

So stick a fork in your anxiety S.!

Marnix Pauwels. Schrijver. Expert verslaving/angst/depressie. Transformative Coach. Helpt mensen ‘n briljant leven voor zichzelf te ontdekken. Onderweg.

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