A Doctor friend of mine once told me that one of my main problems was what he called over-thinking . He likened as the mental equivalent of over-breathing which is when the breathing is shallow and rapid resulting in a drop in carbon dioxide level in the blood. This can lead to fainting fits or panic attacks. I have experienced this frequently. The remedy is to breathe in and hold the breath then exhaling slowly. In severe attacks it is suggested that you breathe into a paper bag a few times. In both cases this raises the carbon dioxide in the blood stream. Over-thinking in contrast can lead to anxiety. I have heard it called "paralysis by analysis".
I have recently had quite severe anxiety attacks. The cause – almost always without fail – is a lack of ability to live in the moment. I was a scientific analyst by profession and have always been a thinker by nature; When I was at school my teacher once wrote in my report that I was a dreamer and would never succeed. I now know what he meant – I haven’t changed much over the years. I analyse everything no matter how small and insignificant. When presented with a situation, I work out all its potential outcomes within my head. In short, I often fall into the trap of over-analysing or over-thinking.
The mind contains a lot of noise, and we can compound this issue when we over-think things. For many people, this situation is made worse by constant self doubt, along with the inner conflict which results from our conditioning. In many respects these traits represent a fragmented mind – and after all, looking around at humanity, one would be hard-pressed to say we are not on the cusp of madness.
Much of this apparent madness surely has to result from this mental fragmentation. In the end – we have become a product of the intellect. A materialistic belief of reductionism, rationalising away everything until all action is broken down into its most basic components. The problem with this is that we are more than the sum of our parts, and in separating those parts we have created materialistic behaviour. That is materialistic behaviour instead of spiritual behaviour.
Materialistic behaviour is full of mental reasoning and intellectual analysis. There is plenty of room for that, but it is only a single aspect of our being. When we act purely from this fragmented reasoning we cause disruption within ourselves, because it is impossible for the analytical mind to be in the moment. It is too concerned with the where-to’s and where-for’s, the what-ifs and the could-haves.
It is interesting because the anxiety we create in our lives, is often treated with equally materialistic methods. Medication, psycho- analysis, or even ‘retail therapy’. I have tried them all. People may laugh at the idea of retail therapy, and they never really consider why it temporarily works. Most people will tell you it is because retail therapy rewards the ego, it gives us what we want. On a physical level that is no doubt true. But there is another aspect to it; when people go on a shopping spree, they feel great – because they are living in the moment! They are only concerned with what is right in front of them!
There’s a great lesson to be learnt from that. Living in the moment is a form of spiritual action. It doesn’t require the analysis of the analytical mind and is happy simply to be. We can find this sort of presence in nearly all the tasks we undertake, we just need to focus on what we are doing – rather than on what could-be, may-be or should-be.
The truth is, the analytical mind is rarely happy with the current moment – because its analytical activity is rarely needed. Spending half an hour everyday on simple tasks is a great way to get in the moment, and persistence will put the intellectual mind in its place. I currently have an on-going project – building a model railway in my new shed. If I am feeling panicky or anxious I switch my mind or proceed with the next stage of the project – working out what I have to do next and how I am going to do it. My focus is entirely on either what I am doing (task in hand – such as aligning baseboards today for example) or what I am going to do. I am absorbed, in a sense I am dreaming, but my mind is actually in the present moment, the world and the future and all its worries and possibilities revolve around me but I am otherwise engaged – I refuse them living space inside my head. I am like the absent minded professor but concentration on a single point drives out all my other concerns, maybe infuriating others who are trying desperately to engage me in their problems – but this too is best ignored when my own mental well being is at stake.