What do 6 Blind Men, an Elephant and Your Anxiety have in Common?

open mind and anxiety

In some form or another, the parable of The 6 Blind Men and an Elephant has been passed down throughout the millennia, reaching every corner of the world.

Never heard of it? Well, almost every corner. Okay, so maybe it missed a place or two. If it didn’t hit your corner, here is a synopsis of the parable twitter-style. For a longer, more poetic version, definitely check out John Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887) version but this will give you the gist.

6 blind men all touch different parts of an elephant. Each get an incomplete picture of the whole but think they have an accurate picture.

Confused as to what in the world this story has to do with your anxiety?

Anxiety is like one of the 6 blind men. It touches on a particular fear or worst case scenario that has entered your mind and then thinks it totally “knows” the situation. Trying to fill out the picture with a more balanced perspective is often disregarded. Your anxiety insists it knows the real story or has the full picture already.

So what can you do once your anxiety starts to rise to help it keep a more open mind than the 6 blind men in our parable?

The next time you start to feel your anxiety, picture (an elephant and) 6 possibilities. Allow a couple possibilities be of your fearful thoughts but then also acknowledge 3–4 other non-fearful possibilities.

By practicing this strategy over and over, you start to diminish the power of your anxiety by loosening its conviction on “knowing the whole story”. By naming 6 possibilities- good and bad- you are giving yourself the chance to not get hooked by just one version of the story. By treating it like a Name 6 Possibilities Exercise, you treat it like a brainstorm and not like a frantic reasoning session with your mind.

Add in 6 deep belly breaths and you should experience something new in the way that your anxiety proceeds.

Eileen Purdy is a registered psychotherapist, author and online course creator in Boulder, Colorado. For a 3 Ways to Not Suck at Meditating Cheatsheet click here.