Our fast moving society has made it, that we are acquainted almost daily with a feeling of stress and anxiety. Some days can start out so fast, that we almost don’t have time to put on shoes before going out the door. Imagine that scenario, being so stressed you had to walk around town barefoot, that would just be crazy, right?
Binthabath is a monks daily alms round. Starting 7am I would walk the streets of Bangkok barefoot, giving blessings in return for food. Government officials, children, elderly and students alike would wait patiently to donate a small meals and in return receive a prayer of good luck to then go on with their day.
Needless to say, before becoming a monk, I was first-world indoctrinated and spoiled, with a passion for leather shoes and suits — in all its aspects monkshood hit me like a reality check. And as if shaving off your eyebrows and hair wasn’t radical enough, I now needed to ask for food in exchange of Palí chants, while walking barefoot around Bangkok, at times stepping on what you’d hope was a soggy wet newspaper. Easy to say the first time I heard that this was a part of my daily routine as a monk, I panicked. Suddenly waking up early was not the hardest part of the day.
Anxiety attacks is a hormone cocktail — and we’re talking ‘double shots’
Being pushed beyond your comfort zone activates the amygdala, the fear center of the brain. When the amygdala is activated the stress hormone, cortisol, hits us with anxiety resulting in symptoms of sweaty palms, increased heart-rate, cold sweats etc. We turn to our instincts and let adrenaline fuel our behavior. Sounds familiar? You’ve probably been in such a situation at one point (or more) in your life.
Our ego is what leads us to believe we are in control, but when we feel uncertain the ego breaks down systematically with the increase of mental discomfort — if we stick with the ego, we sink with the ego. For me Binthabath became the greatest test of letting go of my ego and instead ride the wave of uncertainty. In uncertain situations, should you manage calm the body, then the mind follows troop. The best way of doing so is seize control of the breath, and put full focus on your inhale and exhale cycle.
Uncertainty builds discomfort up like a wave
— embrace it, ride it
What happens when doing so is an experiential transformation. Going from pure uncertainty and discomfort the alms round turned to an experience of humbleness and awareness. I would put enormous focus into the act, staying aware of reactions, wishes and pleas from the folks on the street. I felt humbled and honored to be able to provide something so simple as words. Sure walking barefoot kept being something that was uncomfortable, but served as a great reminder of the level of comfort we are fortunate to have in Denmark.
So next time you feel the alarming rush of uncertainty, stick with your breath, let ego be, embrace humbleness and stay aware. And if it still feels uncomfortable, it’s ok, sometimes we need to take a stroll, barefoot, through life.
Alexander Avanth is a ordained Buddhist monk from the Kunnathi Temple in Thailand and holds an academic background in neuroscience and business innovation. He works daily as a Future Education Specialist at Dare Disruptmapping how the development of exponential technology impacts the way we live and learn. In addition he is chairman and co-founder of Hold Danmark a startup that strives to bring awareness on the consequences of technology and digital addiction in the 21st century.
The viewpoints expressed in this article are his alone.