“Your thoughts have to understand one thing: that you are not interested in them. The moment you have made this point you have attained a tremendous victory.” ~Osho
“What do you do when you go out alone to the forest for the whole day?” my friend asked.
“Nothing. I just sit there, enjoy the peace, and let my thoughts be,” I replied.
“So you meditate,” she said.
“No,” I objected. “I just sit there and do nothing.”
“But that’s meditation,” she insisted.
I smiled and shrugged my shoulders. “Okay, if that’s what you want to call it.”
At that time, most people and society were a big, mean, frightening monster I kept trying to get away from—if not physically, then at least mentally by blasting music through my headphones, escaping far away in my daydream world, or by drowning my invasive negative thoughts and feelings in drugs and alcohol.
Yet, the real monster was inside of me and didn’t plan on leaving any time soon.
I remember how my social anxiety got worse around some people, usually the ones who seemed to feel superior, arrogant, and judgmental toward others. At least that’s how I perceived them in my subjective reality of a socially anxious person. But this wasn’t the only determining element for the intensity of my fears.
Authority figures were frightening, too, even the kind ones.
The truth is, when you have social anxiety, you have such low self-esteem and an intense feeling of inferiority that you think pretty much everyone is superior to you.
So as a general rule, my brain decided that everyone is better and cooler than me, and that pretty much everyone thinks I’m ugly, stupid, and worthless. Therefore, I better stay away from people if I want to avoid mocking, judgment, and rejection.
Every time I didn’t respect my brain’s wish, an alarm in the form of severe anxiety would go off.
Actually, that alarm went off even when just the thought of some people crossed my mind.
But after hours of my special meditation, these thoughts lost their grip. I would think of people and no unpleasant emotions would arise, or if they did arise, much less than before.
I would feel at peace… until the chaos of the city and society would get the best of me again. It would usually take just a day or two before I’d feel pretty much as my old anxious self, which might seem too short to be even worth the time to get out of a big city. It might seem like my few hours long trip was meaningless.
Yet, every meditation made me a little bit stronger and a little bit more peaceful.
Nothing is meaningless. That’s one of the precious lessons I’ve learned from nature.
When everything seemed to lose its meaning, I would look at nature’s beauty surrounding me. I would look at plants and know they are not meaningless. Besides having their special roles in the ecosystem, they appease me. So if they are not meaningless, nothing is, because in nature, everything breathes and lives as one.
There are many more lessons the natural world has thought me.
You know what’s best about being surrounded by meadows, trees, birds, and butterflies?
You feel the life around you, but you know there’s no judgment or rejection involved, not in the same sense as in human society. No thoughts. Nature just is.
Especially plants, there’s something about them that is very calming.
Wild landscapes inspire me to just be. And when you “just are,” without judgment of good and bad, you become incredibly peaceful.
You have probably heard of Jim Rohn’s quote “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” While it might not always be true, I believe it generally is. That’s because we are influenced by our surroundings and social interaction.
Spending time in nature is like becoming infected with that peaceful just be feeling.
What does this have to do with social anxiety?
At first glance, it doesn’t have to do much with the “social” part of anxiety, but read on.
When you just are, all the good and bad disappears and gives place to indescribable peace.
You become stronger and untouchable.
As I sit there on a meadow with the forest surrounding me, I just let my thoughts be.
I don’t try to stop them, create them, or analyze them. I don’t even observe them.
I probably can’t say I get lost in them either.
It’s more like I get lost in the peaceful part of myself while I let all the thoughts do whatever they want. I let them be, and with that, I let them go.
I am emptying myself.
One of my friends once said, “Why do you say you are emptying yourself? You should say you are refilling, not emptying.”
I say emptying because I don’t think that you have to fill yourself up to become the highest version of yourself.
Your true self is blissful, happy, loving, and peaceful. Unhelpful thoughts cover up that peace and make you get lost in the labyrinth of heavy and unpleasant feelings like anxiety, low self-confidence, fear, anger, and sadness.
When you let go of those thoughts, you automatically become everything you ever wanted to be.
So in the end, I like the idea of calling “just sitting in nature, doing nothing” meditation. After all, it creates the effect meditation is supposed to create.
If you haven’t already, I invite you try this “meditation” yourself. Sit there for a few hours. Or at least for one hour. Needless to say, looking at your phone doesn’t count as “doing nothing,” so leave it at home or in your pocket.
No need to analyze, observe, stop, redirect, or create your thoughts. Just be there. Don’t try to be present and don’t try not to be. Don’t try to be without thoughts, either, because as soon as you try to do anything with your thoughts, you are creating new thoughts, more thoughts, and the “just be” state is gone.
Just be. And let thoughts be too. It’s one of the best paths to yourself because when you lose all the unhelpful thoughts, you find yourself.
About Barbara Milavec
Barbara Milavec is an ex-social anxiety sufferer and founder of Free From Social Anxiety blog, where she shares helpful information and tips on overcoming social anxiety. She is also author of an extensive guide “Bye Bye, Social Anxiety ~ Proven Strategies for Growing Lasting Confidence and Calm Within.”