Siddhartha and Social Anxiety


Siddhartha is a 1922 novel by Hermann Hesse, and while it is not directly about social anxiety, it is about mindfulness and meditation—the tools that helped me with social anxiety. In the book, Siddhartha, a character from the time of Gautama Buddha, goes on a spiritual journey, eventually coming to self-realizations that helped him overcome his suffering in life, much in the same way I did. Through select quotes from the text, I will explain how Siddhartha’s journey related to my own journey overcoming social anxiety.

“What is med­it­a­tion? What is leav­ing one’s body? What is fast­ing? What is hold­ing one’s breath? It is flee­ing from the self, it is a short es­cape of the agony of be­ing a self, it is a short numb­ing of the senses against the pain and pointlessness of life.”

Originally, Siddhartha was skeptical of meditation, as was I. Even if you admit meditation works, you might protest that it is an escape from life. However, if you learn to properly meditate and become more mindful, you will discover it can actually bring you closer to life. You will see reality more clearly and experience life more fully.

“The teach­ings, you’ve heard from me, are no opin­ion, and their goal is not to ex­plain the world to those who seek know­ledge. They have a dif­fer­ent goal; their goal is sal­va­tion from suf­fer­ing. This is what Got­ama teaches, noth­ing else.”

When most people think of Buddhism, they think of the religion that formed around it, but few people in the West actually know about the life and teachings of its founder, Gautama Buddha. He was not some supernatural religious figure or prophet. He was simply a man, an ordinary human like anyone else. And he suffered like everyone else, but he learned how to overcome his suffering. His goal in life was not to teach opinions or tell people how to live, but to simply explain his experience—what worked for him in reducing suffering in life. This is what I try to do in my writing about social anxiety. I don’t want to spout opinions or tell anyone what to do. I am simply sharing my experience and the things I’ve done to reduce my suffering. Just like Buddha said, don’t take my word for it—don’t assume anything I say is true. Try it for yourself.

Truly, no thing in this world has kept my thoughts thus busy, as this my very own self, this mys­tery of me be­ing alive, of me be­ing one and be­ing sep­ar­ated and isol­ated from all oth­ers, of me be­ing Siddhartha!

That is the gift and curse of consciousness. It creates a self in your mind, a self that no one else can ever fully know. That self—consciousness—is where most of my suffering around social anxiety came from. My inability to share my inner self with others, or my desire for my self to be different than it was. But through my journey, I was able to separate from that “self”—the thoughts that constantly popped into my mind, negative thoughts fueling anxiety and depression. Through meditation, I learned how to separate myself from those thoughts. You are not your thoughts. You don’t have to believe every negative thought that comes into your head. Once you achieve that state of mindfulness, you will experience far less mental suffering.

I had to pass through so much stu­pid­ity, through so much vices, through so many er­rors, through so much dis­gust and dis­ap­point­ment and woe, just to be­come a child again and to be able to start over.

This is my life in a nutshell. Perhaps it is everybody’s life. I had to go through years of suffering from social anxiety, making all kinds of mistakes, in order to gain the motivation and knowledge of how to overcome it. Mistakes are how we learn.

I sometimes wish I could go back to childhood and start over with the knowledge of everything I learned, especially about social anxiety. I think of the friends I could have made, the experiences I could have had. But time travel is impossible. More importantly, I could never have learned what I know now if I didn’t live through it. Everything in my past has made me the person I am today. And I love the person I am today and wouldn’t want to change my past to make me someone different.

They lacked noth­ing, there was noth­ing the know­ledge­able one, the thinker, had to put him above them ex­cept for one little thing, a single, tiny, small thing: the con­scious­ness, the con­scious thought of the one­ness of all life.

Consciousness is a gift and curse. All the blessings of being a human, like love, compassion, and creativity are a result of consciousness. But all the negative parts of humanity also stem from consciousness: hate, anxiety, anger, regret, and depression. Meditation is a method to gain more control of your consciousness so you can experience more of the positive states and less of the negative.

Slowly blos­somed, slowly ripened in Siddhartha the real­isa­tion, the know­ledge, what wis­dom ac­tu­ally was, what the goal of his long search was. It was noth­ing but a read­i­ness of the soul, an abil­ity, a secret art, to think every mo­ment, while liv­ing his life, the thought of one­ness, to be able to feel and in­hale the one­ness.

This is the goal of meditation. To get to a state of mindfulness, or present moment awareness—fully living in the moment. So much of mental suffering comes from worrying about the past and/or future, neither of which we can control. All we can control is the present moment, but we can’t control the present unless we are fully in the moment. Truly living in the present moment is extremely difficult, but meditation can help. Meditate for ten minutes in the morning, not for the benefits it will bring in those ten minutes, but to carry that mindful state to the rest of your day.

Siddhartha stopped fight­ing his fate, stopped suf­fer­ing. On his face flour­ished the cheer­ful­ness of a know­ledge, which is no longer op­posed by any will, which knows per­fec­tion, which is in agree­ment with the flow of events, with the cur­rent of life, full of sym­pathy for the pain of oth­ers, full of sym­pathy for the pleas­ure of oth­ers, de­voted to the flow, be­long­ing to the one­ness.

Along with overcoming your own suffering, you realize that most other people are still stuck in that state without even realizing it, leaving you with more sympathy for them. People who you may have hated before, you now realize are only acting that way because they are suffering themselves on the inside.

“When someone is search­ing,” said Siddhartha, “then it might eas­ily hap­pen that the only thing his eyes still see is that what he searches for, that he is un­able to find any­thing, to let any­thing enter his mind, be­cause he al­ways thinks of noth­ing but the ob­ject of his search, be­cause he has a goal, be­cause he is ob­sessed by the goal. Search­ing means: hav­ing a goal. But find­ing means: be­ing free, be­ing open, hav­ing no goal. You, O ven­er­able one, are per­haps in­deed a searcher, be­cause, striv­ing for your goal, there are many things you don’t see, which are dir­ectly in front of your eyes.”

When I first tried to overcome social anxiety, I was definitely searching—searching for a cure, a quick and easy fix to make me more extraverted and sociable like everyone else. But through my journey, I became more of a finder. I realized that being an introvert is not a bad thing, and I genuinely like spending time in solitude so I can read and write. I found that the things I was “searching” for, I didn’t really want.

…wis­dom can­not be passed on. Wis­dom which a wise man tries to pass on to someone al­ways sounds like fool­ish­ness.

This is so true. I’d heard the wisdom about how to overcome social anxiety for years (mindfulness, self-acceptance, meditation, therapy) but I ignored it because it sounded foolishly simple to me. But the reality is, it only sounded foolish because I was a fool. I was not ready to learn those things yet. Knowledge, no matter how wise, cannot be forced on someone if they are not ready to hear it.

I have ex­per­i­enced on my body and on my soul that I needed sin very much, I needed lust, the de­sire for pos­ses­sions, van­ity, and needed the most shame­ful des­pair, in or­der to learn how to give up all res­ist­ance, in or­der to learn how to love the world, in or­der to stop com­par­ing it to some world I wished, I ima­gined, some kind of per­fec­tion I had made up, but to leave it as it is and to love it and to en­joy be­ing a part of it.

This is the ultimate key to overcoming social anxiety. To stop thinking that shyness, social awkwardness, or introversion are shameful flaws that need to be extinguished. Stop comparing yourself to others and desiring the hyper-social lives they have, thinking they have a more perfect life. Once you accept who you are, then you will lose your social anxiety because you will be willing to be your shy/awkward self in front of others and realize there’s nothing wrong with that. I still feel social anxiety (I always will to some degree because it’s seeded in my genes), but I’ve learned to stop caring about my social anxiety. Whereas before, I would feel anxiety before the moment, during the moment, and long after the moment, constantly ruminating about what could have been and worrying about what might be. I now feel anxiety in the moment, then simply let it go. If I make a mistake, I don’t dwell on it, worrying what others might think. Or at least I try not to. I sometimes slip into states of anxiety, but I am able to catch myself quicker and stop. A daily practice of meditation helps you to stay mindful of the moment and not revert to your old ways.

But today I think: this stone is a stone, it is also an­imal, it is also god, it is also Buddha, I do not ven­er­ate and love it be­cause it could turn into this or that, but rather be­cause it is already and al­ways everything—and it is this very fact, that it is a stone, that it ap­pears to me now and today as a stone, this is why I love it and see worth and pur­pose in each of its veins and cav­it­ies, in the yel­low, in the gray, in the hard­ness, in the sound it makes when I knock at it, in the dry­ness or wet­ness of its sur­face.

I spent so much of my early life wishing I was different: more confident, more attractive, more athletic, more talkative, etc. I failed to appreciate my own worth: my creativity, my imagination, my deep thinking, my solitude. Those same traits that caused social anxiety and negativity could also be redirected toward positivity: learning, writing, and creating art.

Stop trying to turn a stone into a flower. See the worth and purpose of the stone. Love the stone. You are the stone. Love yourself.

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