No more fear of life | Marnix Pauwels | TEDxArnhem

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Translator: Sanda L Reviewer: Theresa Ranft Presenter: Please welcome Marnix Pauwels. Marnix Pauwels: Imagine that you got this letter. You pick it up off the mat, turn it over and then back again. You discover there's no return address on it. So, automatically, your system fires up, you try to figure out who sent it, and what it's all about. Is it good news from a secret lover? Could it be bad news from the tax office? Or could it just be from a neighbor who wants to tell you the truth, but can't say it to your face? And the whole time your heart is in your stomach, and your head is exploding with questions. What is it? What is it? While you still don't know what it is, you freak out and find yourself trapped in emotional quicksand in about ten seconds flat. That emotion for me was fear. I've always been afraid. Afraid of everything that could go wrong, but also afraid of everything that could go right, because that just put more pressure on me. I was afraid of dying for many years; but mostly, I was afraid of living. The fear was always there, and it completely controlled my life. I was afraid of absolutely everything. I was afraid of not being perfect, and I was afraid of not being able to handle my problems, which turned out to be the driving force behind my addictions. I drank full time, for over 25 years, to numb my fear. I got stoned every day to hide from my drinking, and I smoked tobacco to divert from my getting high. And in the meantime, I sank into a seriously deep depression. Fear is a pretty strange phenomenon: it's designed to help you survive in critical life-threatening situations, getting your system ready for the biological "fight or flight." However, fear often just gets you into trouble. Mostly it's completely imaginary, and we don't get scared of what's actually happening in our lives, we get scared of what we think might happen, what could be in the envelope, and the idea we won't be able to deal with it once we find out what it actually is. Until a year ago, I wouldn't have been able to stand here on this stage, the fear of choking would have been too strong, too many thoughts about failure, possible ... blackouts, lack of confidence, (Laughter) the usual suspects. But when I was asked to do a TEDx talk at the end of last year, I immediately said yes without any doubt or hesitation. Why? Because I had reached the deepest point of my fear. And guess what? I discovered that there was nothing there ... nothing. The deep dark tunnel that I was so scared to enter turned out to be a hallway leading up. And I found out that I wasn't scared of life at all, I was scared of my thoughts about life. What a difference, what a discovery. You know, I never dealt with my problems head-on, I just hid them all, like letters, in a deep, dark and dusty drawer, trying to forget about them like a child covering his eyes with his hands, pretending he's not there. You can do that with some letters, their relevance becomes less over time. However, other letters just get more important as time goes by, and the guilt grows as well because you've been ignoring them for so long. Things like fear and blame, guilt and shame, frustration and sadness, do not disappear when you ignore them. They might withdraw for a while, even for years maybe, and there are countless ways to keep them at bay, but they'll never truly disappear if you don't face them directly. The crucial thing to remember is most of the fear and pain and powerlessness, is not inside the envelope; you can actually deal with that. It's about what we tell ourselves, how we fill in our own blanks makes us scared out of our wits. I heard this story about the movie "Jaws." During filming, the mechanical shark, Bruce, was barely functioning, and not really very scary. So they decided to show less of him, which left much more to our imagination, and the scenes where you expected, but can't actually see it, are the most frightening ones of all. Fear is about stories in our head, the stories in the newspaper, online, or in advertising, when we're told we are totally worthless without product X. It's about the stories, but even more about our belief in them, how we always seem to lose ourselves in hysterical thoughts, not in the facts, not in what's actually there, but in what we create around it. We do it all the time. Let me give you an example. Let's suppose it's raining, and it really, really is raining. That doesn't mean anything more than just moisture coming out of the sky. That's it. Okay? Let's say you have to go to an important meeting. Different things can happen here. You wait until it stops raining. You go outside and walk through the rain with a big smile on your face - I'm one of those people - or you just take an umbrella with you and try to stay dry. So far so good. But what do many people do? They start cursing the rain, blaming each and every raindrop for this horrible inconvenience, heck to the raindrop, even give a shit, they don't. And in no time, we've got the familiar: "It always rains when I have to go somewhere," "Just went to the hairdresser and now it'll all be ruined," or "It never rained as much when I was younger." Blah-dee-blah ... In the meantime, it's still raining. The rain hasn't changed a bit, only our stories have changed. The stories and our believing them make the difference. The silly thing is we never stop and think about where the stories in our heads are coming from, the source of all this ongoing crap, we just take it all for granted because that's just how we think. So, the stories have to be ours, right? We are what we think, right? They have to be true because we created them, right? Wrong! This is essential: you don't own your thinking! Thinking happens. Why would you ever, ever, think yourself into misery if you can shape your thoughts any way you like? Why would you ever be depressed or sad, angry or lost, if it was up to you? If you'd really be the boss of your own thoughts, wouldn't you choose to have loving and constructive ones all the time? If you really have control over what you think, you'd never hurt anyone again, especially not yourself, because you would be the CEO of your own mind. I'd like to do a little experiment with you all to emphasize and celebrate the power of your thinking. Hallelujah! Now for the next half minute, think about ... nothing. Just look at me and empty your minds. Don't think about the coffee you need or the beer you want. Don't think about that thing you keep putting off. Don't think about the great sex you're not having, or are having, lucky you. Don't think about what's happening right now on Twitter or Facebook, about your shrinking bank account. Don't think about what you still want to do the rest of your life. Just don't think about anything! 3, 2, 1, go! (Silence) Okay, now stop not thinking! (Laughter) It didn't work, did it? You probably were thinking you weren't thinking. Come on, you know all too well. It's impossible to stop those crazy ideas that keep bouncing around in your mind no matter what. Even black belt Buddhist monks who live in meditation can't do it, they just learn how not to invest in their thoughts anymore. They fully embrace the idea of not being their thoughts, because they know you are not who or what you think. Let me repeat that to let it sink in. You are not who or what you think. Thoughts arise and disappear, spontaneously, we just witnessed that when you weren't thinking. Your head is just doing random stuff, it always does. And, however weird it may sound, this realization does have positive consequences. If you can be the witness to your own thoughts and watch them come and go, you can never be your thoughts. You cannot observe something and be that something at the same time. You are not what you think. When I realized this in March 2013, while I'd hit rock bottom, and for the first time in my life suicidal thoughts appeared, it radically changed my life. At that moment, I realized that I was not my depressive thoughts. I was and will always be the screen they appear on. I could observe them, I could judge them, I could even have an opinion about them. This meant that there was some distance between me and my thoughts. And if there was distance between me and my thoughts, this meant the thoughts could never really touch me. Wow! You are not weak or bad or worthless, you only have thoughts like that. And you feel the difference. And while I was lying in bed, with no more tears to shed, exhausted to the bone from trying to survive, I realized it was all just a story, a story that I had been carrying with me for my entire life, one that I just assumed was true, one that determined who I was until then. But how could I possibly be something that I could observe from a distance, something that wasn't even permanent, because every thought comes and goes? And I stay, you stay. Then it just deflated like an old balloon. Without someone believing it, a thought is nothing. That was a life-altering insight. We cannot determine what our thoughts look like, we can't, we're always too late. Just give it up. But we can definitely choose to stop believing them. I had very destructive ideas about myself. What I really wanted was that all those blameful thoughts would stop coming, that I could at least change their content. But that was impossible. They just did what they felt like doing; our thoughts always do. That's why I got stoned and drank for all those years, hiding my thoughts pretty effectively behind a huge row of drugs and alcohol. Of course, that was ridiculous, and of course, my fear of those thoughts grew even bigger because of this everlasting, horrible hangover. Every day those stories in my head became more complicated, scarier, heavier. After I got clean on 22 October 2012, I decided to start making amends. All of my stories came up again. I started to face the music, talking to all of the people that I'd heard, and there were many, and dealing with all the pain I'd caused. I started to, figuratively, open all of the envelopes that I had been ignoring all those years. I checked them, one by one, examined what was inside, and experienced the deep shame and intense pain that a few decades of ignorance had cost. Facing my stories and endless lies was the only way to end my fear and insecurity forever. When I opened those envelopes and dealt with whatever was inside, something happened. Space was created. I found out that the stories about the inside of the envelopes, my thoughts about life, were so much worse than the actual content. I discovered that they sometimes did have horrible consequences, but that they could never truly damage me, which I had been afraid of the whole time. That's what fear, that's what insecurity, that's what thoughts, do to you, they kidnap your life and hold it hostage. Everything is different now. Life is completely different now. I choose not to ignore the envelopes anymore. I open them right away, and deal with what's inside. I live in complete contact with everything that reveals itself, with all aspects of life, and I almost never lose myself in the quicksand of speculation anymore. Of course, I do get scared sometimes, but that's only natural. The fear has lost its power, and that's okay. The fear and all of the other limitations that you put on yourself by believing each and every thought, is totally unnecessary. Learn to observe your thoughts, how they come and go without any effort. Meditation is perfect for this. Discover that there's always space between who you are and what you think, and that you always have the choice to not believe in those thoughts, to let them pass like clouds in the sky. Trust your inventiveness, your spontaneity, your resilience, your talents, to fully embrace everything that happens to you. Trust life, be free, and never, ever leave another envelope unopened. Thank you. (Applause)
Channel: TEDx Talks
Views: 75,099
Rating: 4.8926172 out of 5
Keywords: TEDxTalks, English, Netherlands, Life, Body, Fear, Health, Mental health
Id: SMi3rHuK0c4
Channel Id: undefined
Length: 16min 55sec (1015 seconds)
Published: Tue Oct 06 2015
Reddit Comments

Thanks for posting this! :)

👍︎︎ 1 👤︎︎ u/ri0tnrrd 📅︎︎ Nov 20 2015 🗫︎ replies

Awesome Video. Great post

👍︎︎ 1 👤︎︎ u/VincentM11 📅︎︎ Nov 20 2015 🗫︎ replies

I'd it ted or tedx?

👍︎︎ 1 👤︎︎ u/tylercoder 📅︎︎ Nov 20 2015 🗫︎ replies
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