To keep our ancestors alive, the brain evolved strong tendencies toward fear, including an ongoing internal trickle of unease. This little whisper of worry keeps you scanning your inner and outer worlds for signs of trouble.
This background of unsettledness and watchfulness is so automatic that you can forget it's there. So see if you can tune into a tension, guarding or bracing in your body. Or a vigilance about your environment or other people. Or a block against completely relaxing, letting down, letting go. Try to walk through an office or store that you know is safe without a molecule of wariness; it's really hard. Or try to sit at home for five minutes straight while feeling undefended, soft in your body, utterly comfortable in the moment as it is, at peace. This is impossible for most people.
The brain's default setting of apprehensiveness is a great way to keep a monkey looking over its shoulder for something about to pounce. But it's a crummy way to live. It wears down well-being, feeds anxiety and depression and makes people play small in life.
Even worse, it's based on a lie.
The muttering of fear tells you implicitly, "Watch out, bad things are happening you're not seeing, don't ever think you're completely OK, never let down your guard."
But take a close look at this moment, right now. You are probably alright: No one is attacking you, you are not drowning, no bombs are falling, there is no crisis. It's not perfect, but you're OK.
By "right now," I really mean this instant. When we go into the future, we worry and plan. When we go into the past, we resent and regret. Threads of fear are woven into the mental tapestries of past and future. Look again at the thin slice of time that is the present. In this moment, are you basically OK? Is breathing OK? Is the heart beating? Is the mind working? The answers are almost certainly yes.
In daily life, it's possible to access this fundamental sense of alrightness even while getting things done. You're not ignoring real threats or issues, or pretending that everything is perfect. It's not. But in the middle of everything, you can usually see that you're actually alright right now.
Several times a day, notice that you're basically alright.
You may want more money or love, or simply salt for your French fries. Or want less pain, heartache or rush hour traffic. All very reasonable. But meanwhile, underneath all the to-ing and fro-ing, you are OK. The foundation of your activities is an aliveness and an awareness that is doing fine this second.
There you are doing dishes; notice that "I'm alright right now," and perhaps even say that softly in your mind. Or you are driving: I'm alright right now. Or you're talking with someone: I'm alright right now. Or doing emails or putting a child to bed: I'm alright right now.
Notice that, while feeling alright right now, you can still get things done and deal with problems. The fear that bad things will happen if you let yourself feel OK is unfounded. Let this sink in. You do not need to fear feeling alright!
Sometimes you're really not alright. Maybe something terrible has happened, or your body is very disturbed, or your mind is very upset. Do what you can at these times to ride out the storm. But as soon as possible, notice that the core of your being is OK, like the quiet place fifty feet below a hurricane howling above the sea.
Noticing that you're actually alright right now is not some kind of cosmic consciousness (usually), nor laying some positive attitude over your life like a pretty veil. Instead, you are knowing a simple but profound fact: In this moment I am alright. You are sensing the truth in your body, deeper than fear, that it is breathing and living and OK. You are recognizing that your mind is functioning fine no matter how nutty and not-fine the contents swirling through it are.
Settling into this basic sense of okayness is a powerful way to build well-being and resources in your brain and self. You're taking a stand for the truth -- and against the lies murmured by "Mother Nature."
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report, and The Huffington Post, and he is the author of the best-selling Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. He writes a weekly newsletter -- Just One Thing -- that suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.