Text-book definitions of social anxiety disorder include “Individuals with social anxiety disorder fear negative evaluations from other people.”  One of the significant characteristics is an overwhelming fear of humiliation.

While social anxiety may be more common or pronounced now, it is not something new.  Around 400 B.C. Hippocrates described the condition stating that such a person “dare not come in company for fear he should be misused, disgraced, overshoot himself in gesture or speeches, or be sick; he thinks every man observes him.”

So it could be categorized as extreme self-consciousness.

We don’t want to get into discussing a diagnosis or treatment of this condition but provide another perspective that can be extremely helpful in dealing with such experiences.

The commonly held idea is that our physical bodies and states of mind are our identities – who we actually are. This paradigm is contested by the ancient Yogic teachings which teach that you are neither the body nor the mind (including your feelings and emotions). You are an eternal spiritual being residing temporarily within the physical body and covered by the material mind.

Spiritual cultivation (mindfulness and meditation) means the growth in appreciating my spiritual being or identity. This state brings tremendous resilience, stability, and balance to our lives.

These are some excerpts from Vedic texts referencing the balance and resilient nature of someone progressing on this spiritual path.

“one who is equiposed in honor and dishonor” Bhagavad-gita 12.18-19

“… even-mindedness amid pleasant and unpleasant events…”  Bhagavad-gita 13.8-12

“ … who is wise and holds praise and blame to be the same; who is unchanged in honor and dishonor, who treats friend and foe alike….” Bhagavad-gita 14.22-25

For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy. Bhagavad-gita 6.6

Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya

So, the topic that I was given, social anxiety: I think when I was, of course, given this, we’re not just talking about feeling a little bit shy, but actually experiencing huge amounts of stress when we have to go into social kind of environments.

So there is a formal definition, and they define it as actually a disorder, and they say, “Individuals with social anxiety disorder fear negative evaluations from other people.” This is not the only thing, but this is actually one of the big drivers. And they state that, “One of the significant characteristics [of this disorder] is an overwhelming fear of humiliation.”

It’s unfortunately becoming increasingly pronounced, such types of anxiety in society. I mean it’s totally amazing: mankind has been around for thousands of years and undergone severe challenges, wars, constant wars, fighting over territory, different forms of exploitation, weather events that lead to starvation and famine, different types of diseases and things, so it’s not like there’s been a shortage of enormous difficulties that people have faced; but compared to what humanity has gone through in the last hundreds and thousands of years today is pretty lightweight. I mean it’s been a long time since there’s been a serious war. I don’t think anybody has ever encountered a famine or diseases that just wipe out big parts of the population, yet we find that there is this growing anxiety and depression and even suicidal thought. It’s grown dramatically in the last 20 years, and more specifically, in about the last 6 to 8 years it’s kind of like going up.

One of the problems that we face it are these things. [Holds up phone] This creates such an enormous illusion that I’m actually communicating with others when I can be just sitting at home and actually not dealing with any anybody. Like, one of the things that they’ve found with young people that would spend a lot of time from quite an early age on these devices, one of their characteristics is when they engage with other people they have a hard time looking at others in the eyes. Everybody talks with their head down, or a lot of people. They won’t really look. There is this fearfulness of engaging.

Yet part of our deep nature is that we are social. To have relationship, and particularly to love, is like such an important part of our deeper, even spiritual, identity. And so when we have difficulty in these kind of areas it’s really, really sad, and it’s really unfortunate.

So, while discussion about social anxiety may be rising, and maybe more common now, it’s not like it’s something new. You know who Hypocrates is, ancient Greek philosopher? 400 years BC he observed this condition, and he wrote about it. He stated that such a person, “…dare not come into company for fear he should be misused, disgraced, overshoot himself in gesture or speeches, or be sick. He thinks every other person is observing them.” So this is the—one of the big features and the big characteristics.

So we can categorize it as fundamentally a form of extreme self-consciousness, and I’ll come back to that word in a little bit.

Tonight we actually don’t want to get into diagnosing anybody. I am not a qualified medical professional. We’re not going to get into discussing how things are diagnosed, nor are we going to talk about conventional treatments of the condition. What I’m going to do is offer another perspective. This perspective that I will offer is founded on deep spiritual principles. And I think people will generally find it really helpful in the way that someone might process, or deal with, or address this condition.

So, in order to get started I think it’s important that we understand something. We live in a time that’s categorized, or epitomized, by the selfie. Everybody’s taking pictures of everything, even your food. People can’t just sit down and eat a meal. They have to take a picture of it. They have a saying—I don’t know if you do it in New Zealand, but other parts of the world they have a saying: “The phone eats first.” And it’s kind of like, what are you doing?

And of course, it has a lot to do with trying to project to the world how cool I am, how happy I am, how wonderful my life is. We have this unfortunate feeling that other people have to validate everything that we’re doing. And it’s just like, “What!?” No, you don’t need validation from anybody. You can do whatever you want to do. Other people may agree or disagree, that’s okay. You’re entitled. You have that freedom, that freedom of choice.

But when we set ourselves up to be constantly scrutinized, like I’m always trying to look a certain way—I mean the selfie thing is ridiculous! How many shots do I have to take before I can get one that I will post? It’s like, what are you doing? You’re not showing a natural picture of you. You’re trying to show the most artificial one, that you had to work really hard to get just right, and the right angle, and this—”I look better this way than this way.” [Turning his head to get better angle] And it’s kind of like, oh this is a sad situation when we really feel that we need to be constantly validated and endorsed.

And then the idea that how I look, what my body looks like, is going to determine how acceptable I am to others; how desirable or lovable I will be, is going to be based on physical appearance—it’s like, oh my God! that’s so pitiful and so shallow. What have we come to? This has not happened accidentally. It’s just part of the direction that society has taken.

So, the commonly held idea is that our physical bodies and our state of mind, these are our actual identities. My physical body and my state of mind, these are—this is my identity. This idea that this is who we truly are…well, I’m going to say that that is not true. There is another way of looking at things. There is another—this paradigm is, actually is the foundation for much unhappiness and much distress. Since the most ancient of times there has been a teaching, a yogic principle that the body and the mind is not who you are, that within this outer garment, there is an eternal spiritual being.

Last time I was here, a couple of weeks ago, the topic was, “We all know we have a soul, but what is it?” So one of the things I tried to establish early on is you don’t have a soul, you are the soul. That’s an extraordinary idea because we actually don’t know who we are in the deepest part of ourself. Who am I truly? In Sanskrit, the word that describes me is this word atma. The word atma, it literally means the self.

And so what is happening is that in the normal course of life everybody has become overwhelmed, identifying with all of the labels attached to the body that we currently have: “I am male,” “I am female,” “I am young,” “I am old,” “I am tall,” “I am short,” “I am thin,” “I am fat,” all of these labels, and I hold them very close to me, and say, “This is who I am.”

But the reality is no, that is not true. The body is constantly changing. The body that you’re wearing now, 2 years ago 98% of all the atomic particles making up your current body, they weren’t part of your body. Your body was made up of other atomic particles. Within 5 years every single atom in the body has been replaced. Your body is constantly undergoing change.

You have a time when you—maybe have a picture of a young baby, your baby body, and you go, “That’s me,” and then a childhood body, “That’s me.” Yeah, but isn’t the body different? “Yeah, but it just grew.” No, it’s more than that. That’s actually a completely different body. All of the components have changed. This is like a shocking idea. But all throughout there is a one single person who is experiencing these changes. Your identity has remained constant. You have experienced these different bodies and these different changes.

The cultivation of the appreciation of our spiritual identity is the single most important thing that you can actually do in this life. It is this that is the doorway to complete freedom, liberation from all the anxiousness and all of the difficulty that comes with dealing with the body.

Along with that, the great teachers in the yoga system, they also taught that you are actually not the mind, that the mind is also covering you. And that’s just like, “What!? Really?”

We can try to control our mind. If you have some fear or some anxiousness, or you want to focus on schoolwork or some work that you’re doing, or you’re trying to remember something, you know, for a business deal; and you experience in all those situations that you are using your mind, trying to control it, trying to make it remember, trying to do things with it. If you were your mind, you couldn’t step back like that and do that. And so the mind, which is the repository of all of our experience in this world, the place where all the emotions reside and manifest—to learn that I am actually not the mind—

You know this meditation, the guided meditation that you went through in the beginning, I think over time they will—you can attend the classes here and be introduced to different experiences of these mindful type meditations. In doing them it grows your awareness of the fact that this body is something that I am occupying and using, and similarly my mind should be something that I am using rather than being used by.

They have a teaching that the mind can be the greatest friend or the greatest enemy. That’s an extraordinary idea. Your own mind, if it is uncontrolled can actually be a great enemy. And we know this. When we become overly emotional, like, particularly anger is one I always like to talk about: when a person becomes overwhelmed by anger you end up saying things and doing things that don’t make your life better, they make your life worse. You end up saying things and doing things that you later will regret. Maybe you won’t admit it, but if you’re actually open to thinking about it, it’s not good. You haven’t improved your life. There are other options for dealing with things, other than anger. Anger is just blind, particularly when it’s like blind rage, when people just lose it, and they don’t care what the outcome is going to be.

So these spiritual practices, where we endeavour to cultivate an increasing awareness of who we truly are within our heart of hearts, the spiritual being, the spiritual being that will continue to exist even after death… Death is not experienced by the soul, or the spiritual being. It is something that occurs to the body. When you, the person, leaves that body, that body now manifests its true character. It’s just like a not very attractive hunk of flesh and bones and all other kinds of biological waste. You don’t really want to be involved with it, with a dead body. You have a natural feeling of being a little bit repulsed, even when it’s somebody that you love and care about.

And that’s not bad, that is good, because it is a little window into something really, really important—that is the eternal, spiritual nature of the person who resides within this vessel, within this covering. So we live in an era where it’s become increasingly pronounced that people are told, there’s this constant message: The body is you. And you need to spend this money, and dress it like this. You need to, if necessary, even undergo operations or to take certain types of chemicals to sort of increase the attractiveness of this body and who you are.

I used the term earlier, “extreme self-consciousness” in talking about social anxiety. The problem with that term, “extreme self-consciousness” is that I am mistakenly thinking of the body as being the self, and I’m so worried about how awkward I might be, and what I look like, and maybe the way I speak, and how I’m dressed, and how the body is going to act and do things, and I’m just like so concerned and overwhelmed by it. I’m worried that I won’t say the right things, that I won’t behave in a way that other people will adulate and, “Oh, you’re so amazing, you’re fantastic.” I get really, really caught up in these things. And there is a reason for it.

There is an interesting documentarian, his name is Adam Curtis. He did a four-part BBC documentary called The Century of the Self. And he said that what he was exploring was, “the rise of an idea that has come to dominate our society. It is the belief that satisfaction of individual feelings and desires is our highest priority.” The problem is that when people pursue a path that is very self centred, but in a wrong way, then we begin to struggle with true relationships, meaningful relationships, because we’re not looking at the person.

There’s this one woman, what was her name Stephanie something. I can’t remember. She had a—she was with her husband on his birthday, they had taken this flight with their friends, and the plane, on the way back, had landed at a small airport and refueled, and when they were trying to take off the plane crashed, and it was full of fuel. And so like on 92% of her body she had third degree burns. And she had—she said she could smell the flesh burning, she could smell the hair burning. It was like so traumatic. You’re breathing fire into your lungs, and you’re scorched all inside.

They put her into a coma. They kept her in a coma for six months, because she was so disfigured. And it’s just amazing that the body was able to continue to keep going, that she was able to continue to live in that state. So after 6 months of all this—they kept her in a coma, because they had to do all these really painful skin grafts to try and restore some normality, but it’s like her face is all melted and everything. And she was a mother of four children, or three at that time. And she loved her kids more than anything. And the husband was a really nice guy. I saw them being interviewed. He was badly burned also. They’re really, really nice people.

And when after 6 months they were going to allow the children in to see her for the first time, and she was really freaked out because she couldn’t even look in a mirror things were so bad. And when her first and eldest daughter, who at the time was about 5, came into the room, and when she saw her mother it’s like she’d seen a monster; and she’s recoiling. And she’s saying to her daughter, “It’s me. It’s Mummy. It’s—I’m still your Mummy. It’s me. Don’t be afraid. It’s me, your Mummy,” but all the while the daughter’s like “Yaaah!” [mimes recoiling in fear]—and we can’t imagine how painful that is for her to have that kind of experience.

Later the girl, the young daughter, became more at ease. And in an interview they asked, “When was the—what was it that made it so when you looked at your Mum that you realized, ‘Yeah, this is my Mum.’” And the girl said they were at the at the table doing some colouring sort of project, and she looked up into her Mum’s eyes and connected, and then it was like, “Yeah, this is Mum.”

So the woman later wrote a book, and the book was titled, or subtitled, “Mothers, the most important thing to teach your daughters is that they are not their bodies.” This was her takeaway from this experience.

It’s so easy for us to be caught up in the shallow things, the externals; and it’s quite difficult to cultivate the vision to see people, the actual spiritual being, the person, the spiritual person within the body, and to relate to all beings, regardless of what the body looks like, it’s size, shape, colour, anything, but to see that we have a common—there is a common reality. We are all eternally bound as spiritual brothers and sisters, but we become separated by overemphasis on the outer garment, on the covering.

So spiritual cultivation, cultivating a spiritual way of seeing things and of living, it really means that there’s going to be a growth in appreciating one’s own spiritual identity and the spiritual identity of all other living beings. When we can do this, it really begins to transform our social interactions, the way that we look at ourself, the way we look at others, the way that we look at the world. And when a person chooses this course and cultivates this type of vision and understanding, then their life is a life of wonderful balance and tremendous resilience, the capacity to withstand all the different storms that come.

You know, people can be so shitty to each other, say the most horrible things, and to be so cruel, and it’s so unnecessary. And it’s always because there is no spiritual vision at all, there is no seeing another person residing within that body who is my brother or my sister, that I’m actually connected to.

In one of the—we draw our knowledge and wisdom from a vast resource. It’s called the Vedas. Veda actually means knowledge, and there are so many different books and texts within this vast collection. I’m just going to read a couple of exerpts from some verses from just one of these. It’s called the Bhagavad Gita. And here it’s describing what spiritual growth means, that—and once again, just for clarity, spiritual growth means that I increasingly come to appreciate and connect with my deep spiritual identity, who I truly am.

When a person grows this way, it says, describing such a spiritually developed person, they will be “one who is equipoised in honor and dishonor.” That’s just like amazing, because we’re so affected by the idea of somebody praising or honoring us; we get all elated. And then if someone says something bad about us, and we hear it from somebody else, (because usually people won’t do it straight to your face,) then it’s kind of like you’re all depressed, and you’re all—And we’re talking about attaining a condition where both in honor and dishonor it’s—you are equIpoised, you are not influenced, you are not thrown out of balance.

Then also describing in another verse the nature of a person who is advancing spiritually, a characteristic, “There is even mindedness [even mindedness] amid pleasant and unpleasant events.” So it’s not that you lose the recognition that some things are pleasurable, or pleasant, and other things are actually unpleasant, and not pleasurable, but we don’t become swept away by this. This doesn’t control our life. We have a bigger vision. We have a deeper purpose and meaning in life.

And finally, in another one, “One who is wise and holds praise and blame to be the same, who is unchanged in honor and dishonor, who treats friends and foe alike,” such a person is considered to be very saintly, to be really established in spiritual understanding, and this is what we need to strive for.

You’ve heard of The Serenity Prayer? I mentioned it last time we were here. It’s absolutely amazing when you look at it from a very spiritual perspective. It goes:

“Grant me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change, the courage to change those things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

You will find that in life most of us have an unfortunate tendency of wanting to change those things we cannot. How somebody spoke to you, what they said to you, how they treated you, you can’t change that. Give up on thinking you can change it. Let it go. That’s their problem, not your problem. Why do you take it to heart? You don’t have to.

“Grant me the courage to change those things that I can.” Your territory is this. [Indicating his body] You. The body that you have, and your mind, this is your territory, this is what you need to work on. You don’t need to work on what—how somebody else is addressing you, unless it’s one of your kids! You have a responsibility to teach them good manners and proper conduct. But if it’s not your kid, if it’s not a close relative, you don’t have any business. Even a close relative, you can’t change them. That’s not your business. Your business is how you are going to take things, and how you are going to respond, how you are going to react. This is your area of responsibility.

Somebody may say, “Well I’ve got a—I’m suffering from severe—[I don’t know]—anxiety. I’ve got all kinds of problems, social problems, I’ve got mental health issues and I just can’t deal with it.” Well, I’ll tell you something that’s just like really amazing. You need to cultivate an understanding that the mind and the body is like your car. You are the driver of that car. Some people have really flash cars, and other people have really crappy beat up cars. That’s okay. The car is for getting from A to B. That’s what the car is for. Sometimes you’ve got something you need to go to Ngaruawahia, or you’re going to go up to Auckland or something, and it’s kind of like once you get up to 45 the wheels start vibrating and the car is shaking, so I’ve got to slow down to 42, and everybody’s tooting their horn and trying to get past me. It’s okay. Don’t worry. That’s all you got to deal with for now. It’s better than walking. Just, okay, just settle down. Just drive it from A to B, and then do what you need to do.

This is part of learning to accept that which I cannot change. I cannot instantly change my thinking. I need to go through some process to do that, but if my car is kind of all beat up, and it smokes, and it wobbles, and the window keeps falling down, and I got to tape it up or whatever, it’s okay. Don’t worry. Just use it, use it the best way that you can.

But all the drivers are the same. We are—we have, we share a common bond. And I need to cultivate an awareness of this so that I appreciate others, but I also appreciate the reality that as an eternal spiritual being there’s nothing wrong with me. I don’t have to change. My car could use some fixing up and changing or improving, but I don’t, the actual person residing within.

One of my teachers, he said something in relation to the goal of mindfulness-type meditations. He said,

“The ultimate goal of mindfulness meditation techniques is to realize that you are not the mind. Such realization allows you to passively and without judgment observe the content of your own mind, creating distance between you, the observer, and your thoughts and feelings, can keep you from being overwhelmed by either positive or negative emotions and feelings, thus providing you with inner peace, clarity, and insight.”

So you have more power than you think. You can actually take charge of your life. You can begin to make good decisions that produce really good outcomes. It is good to cultivate some understanding and knowledge how to do that, but the single thing that will be more effective than— at bringing change than anything else is to engage in this form of meditation, to become absorbed, even for a few minutes in this spiritual experience, the experience of the spiritual sound.

It’s just like you go up to the lake, (I don’t know if you want to go up to the lake. It’s got all the ducks up there), but you know, on a hot day, and you want to immerse yourself say, in the ocean or in a stream or even the shower. You’ve been all hot and sweaty doing some work. You stand in that water and feel refreshed and cleansed. This is the meaning of meditation, to become immersed in that which is spiritual, or transcendental. And it will have an effect, even if you don’t believe it. You don’t have to study anything. Just by doing it, it will gradually transform your life. You will increasingly come to have this understanding of your true spiritual identity. You will begin to see yourself differently, the world differently, and others differently. You will become really solid in your life. You will become unshakable even in the face of great sadness. One can experience tremendous sadness, but it doesn’t knock you off balance, it doesn’t crush you, because there is a deeper spiritual understanding of things.

Okay. That’s all. Good enough or not? Or you want a refund? [Audience laughter] You have to talk to James!

So, what we’ll do is I’ll just lead another kirtan. Then I understand after that there’s a little supper or something? Yeah. And if you would like, during that time you want to ask some questions, please feel free. It’s so important to question. There’s no dumb questions. All questions that you may have about your spiritual growth are important, so don’t be shy. If you have something that you want to hear about, you may not even have a specific question, you may kind of have an idea, “Can you talk about that?” and that’s fine. I am very happy to share the wonderful things that I have been given.

Thank you very much.

So I’ll probably chant the same two mantras that Kunti did, the Haribol Nitai Gaur, and maybe the Mahamantra, the Hare Krishna mantra. So I’ll chant the mantra twice.