On Giving Opinions and Following Social Values

by Andrea
(Costa Rica)

Question:

Hello, Adam! I really admire the work you've done here. Being a 24 year old myself, I'm amazed at how much you've delved into the topic and how much it's worked, considering the stigma that there tends to be about people our age. 

I have a question regarding giving opinions and following your inner values. I have been suffering with crippling anxiety since last July, started out by a bad past relationship. Long story short, things got worse and worse and then I found Paul's website (anxietynomore.co.uk) and book. Things have been getting better at a rate I never imagined and I am advancing towards recovery at a pace I'm happy with, though it requires patience. I realize that you give the same line of advice, delving more into the spiritual side. 

One of the things that started my long road with anxiety was the fact that my ex-boyfriend liked to argue and contradict, for the sake of debate (and being right). Both him and me study political science in uni and it's very common for debates to start there. I've never been particularly fond of debates (because of dislike of confrontation, in one hand, and insecurity, probably a bigger factor than I've thought); this resulted, that I would state things and my ex would contradict them, I would try to refute (and get agitated and frustrated) and he would refute again, and I would just be in a such a hurt emotional place that I would leave it there, leaving me in emotional distress. This caused me to start obsessing about the topic, to the point that I started to become mentally dependent on his approval, and fearing (completely irrationally) that whenever I would read something on the newspaper, on my school texts, etc., he would argue with me if I brought it up. It was painful and completely mad. 

That kind of left for a while but now it seems like it's transferred to my father, since he seems to posses the same kind of personality and antics (wanting always to argue for the sake of debate, and more so to win and rub his ego). It's caused me to obsess and get anxious everytime I read my texts from school about confrontation with him to extremely ridiculous extents--from extremely trivial things (like things I notice while I'm watching TV) to hearing lectures in school. 

I've applied the same line of advice given by Paul and you and just let the thoughts be there, though it's incredibly frustrating, because in an environment where I'm supposed to, I guess, be in "thinking mode" (school) these thoughts always interrupt my line of thought or don't even let me start them in the first place. Also, I'll be casually talking with other family members and the slightest showing of opinion makes my mind fill up with dread and anxiety and frustration and anger. And then there's the situation where things are actually happening and my dad starts refuting at the table and I try to drive a point and it's always a nasty process, and it fuels up my incessant fear of the situation. It's...annoying to put it very mildly, and it's the thing that's keeping me the most in the anxiety cycle. 

I've been mindful in situations of debate and argument and I've noticed just how much ego can (and does) play a part in them. So I'm left with two choices: either not take part in them (which isn't fair because then it means that my anxiety has completely robbed me of an activity that could let me grow intellectually, and I'm in avoidance mode, a big no no) or participate but end up feeling strange and not engaged (because while I'm mindful, I find it difficult to concentrate on the points at hand and I find the need to say things in return to be less and less). 

I...don't want to give up my opinions and intellect (especially when it comes to deep values) because of anxiety and fear. But I also would like to be able to talk about things without getting so heated up and upset (as it seems to happen with most people). A true discussion, in which people share viewpoints and come to an agreement, not something personal and nasty. 

My question is: how do you find inner peace when it comes to this situation? How can I overcome these thoughts and obsessions and think more freely? How would you recommend handling the topic of discussing opinions (especially those that are debatable) without losing your peace? 

Any help would be very much appreciated. Thank you! 


Response:

Hi Andrea, thanks for your question.

Overall I have four things mention:

1) Not identifying with opinions that arise in you
2) Letting other people be
3) Not expecting to come to an agreement
4) Presence outside debate
 

1) Not identifying with your own opinions

Not identifying with opinions does not mean that you will never have an opinion again. It does mean, however, that you do not look for yourself in them. You do not take them to be who you are, you do not derive an identity or sense of self from them. Opinions can change, and are by nature often unstable. You are that which is aware of an opinion arising and being formed. As awareness, you do not have opinions, but rather you are the space in which opinions come and go.

When you take an opinion to be who you are, you link your sense of self to it. Then when that opinion’s validity is threatened, you will feel threatened. As you have noticed, this is a big driving force in debates and arguments, even more so in school where people may think that their grades (and therefore future) is on the line. To question someone’s opinion can them feel as if they are in some way being threatened with death, and rather than it becoming a conceptual discussion about a matter, it becomes a fight for survival.

What if you did not identify with your own opinions? Even the opinions that seem to come from your heart rather than your mind? Let them be there, but do not identify yourself with them. Any useful opinions or viewpoints will remain with you, but the useless ones will leave. Stay present, stay empty inside. Allow what comes to come, allow what goes, to go.

(When anxious thoughts or emotions come, if frustration arises because of their interruptions, then this frustration is a form of resistance. Take another “step back” and do not resist this frustration. Allow it, be the witness of it.)

Then you may find yourself in a situation where you express a viewpoint. Then it may be challenged, but you do not have to defend yourself. Take the idea of yourself out of it. Only words are being spoken. Defenciveness and resistance, or frustration or annoyance may arise inside at any point, but these are also allowed to be as they are.  

If a situation requires discussion (like at school), then you will likely find yourself explaining your viewpoint or even questioning another’s, but without a heavy sense of personality contaminating it. If your viewpoint is destroyed, you are not. Do not take the thoughts and opinions your mind generates too seriously. Then they can be discussed if necessary, but never clung to or identified with. 

Not identifying with your own opinion may feel uncomfortable at first, as if you are being diminished. It may, on the other hand, feel liberating. Let this all happen. Let the ego or your mental sense of self diminish - either through your own disidentifications or through criticisms of others – but do not get sucked into thinking. Stay present. Only the unreal diminishes. Let the ego die, and see what remains – pure presence.

The sense of desperation to prove the validity of an opinion mostly comes from identifying with it, unconsciously trying to prove the validity of one’s own self. But this is a mistaken, conceptual self. You are affected by no opinion, whether it arises in you or someone else

Obviously this way of treating opinions would seem like madness to many, and often would not be understood. Of course when you treat opinions in this way and realise what you are (awareness), lose ego etc, the need to argue and debate becomes less and less. Your sense of self is no longer dependent on it. The mind may interpret this as somehow losing your ability to debate at work or school, but I see it a different way. All it means is that your inner state is different, and therefore your method of expression is different.  

Some of the best debaters I have seen are very cool headed. They do not seem to get sucked in (as many do) into making the discussion a personal feud. They are not desperate to convince people of their views, yet they can still be enthusiastic – and that can give their words more power and volume. When you do not have the ego contaminating your discussions, you say whatever is required, but you are not dependent on your opinion or view being accepted by anyone. In this state, your mind is far clearer to actually come up with more articulate and intelligent responses. It is in service to the moment, not serving to preserve the ego. Your speaking becomes more spontaneous. It will come from awareness into thinking, rather than from just a bundle of personal thinking.

You may understand all of this, but habitual tendencies will likely still be occurring and operating inside. When they do come up, continue to let them be, surrender, do not identify. The frustration that comes up at school when they interrupt useful thinking, is also allowed to be and is not identified with. Don’t identify with anything at all. Doing this and not even expecting these energies to leave is, paradoxically, the quickest way to dissolve them (in my experience).
 

(Since this is getting long, my sitebuilder has forced me to make a new page: 

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