Anxiety. Not so bad?

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ANXIETY. NOT SO BAD?

 

Notes:

  • This material is based on an interview I conducted with Brent Lyons, a PhD candidate at Oxford University studying the intersection of anxiety and religion
  • While this technique provides an intellectual understanding of anxiety that can help some people, it’s not proven effective for all anxieties. Please seek professional advice should you feel you need it.
  • I hope this helps you deal with some of the unprecedented unknowns before us

Bats

Let’s assume you have a fear of bats.

Many people do.

But then, let’s assume you listened to a chiropterologist (someone who studies bats) who explained that, in all recorded history, unless seriously provoked, bats do not attack humans.

(If you’d like, listen to Ali Ward’s podcast Ologies with Dr. Merlin Tuttle, the world’s foremost authority on bats.)

After getting this datum, you might still shudder when you see a bat overhead, but your fear would probably be diminished some.

‘Cause, in all of recorded history, there have been exactly zero bat attacks.

 

Fear

Fear is a natural emotion. Fear serves to protect us from potential dangers.

Fear of slipping on ice keeps us from taking large careless steps on it.

Fear protects us from potential harm.

 

However, we sometimes distort our natural fears. For example, never going outside because of the fear that one might get hurt is a distortion of a natural fear.

Here in Portland, I do not go to certain places at certain times because I know those are unsafe places at those times. But I do go to the supermarket (with a mask on).

 

Anxiety

Anxiety is differentiated from fear as the former lacks an object. Fear is always coupled with an “of” and then a noun. Fear of ice, fear of bears, fear of the number 13.

 

Anxiety is fear without an of. Anxiety free floats.

 

Re-framing

What you are about to read about anxiety might seem a bit topsy-turvy or upside down.

 

What follows might—at first—make as much sense as if I told you that the wind was caused by the movement of leaves.

‘Cause, we are accustomed to thinking that it is the wind that causes the leaves to move.

 

Anxiety = Bats

Anxiety in and of itself is not a negative.

It’s a feeling.

That we ascribe negative emotions to it is akin to thinking that bats are out to harm us.

 

Anxiety is the introduction of (many) possibilities.

Not good. Not bad. A feeling.

A sense of a whole new set of possibilities.

 

Where to go from here

In a calm moment—or as close to a calm moment as you might get these days—can you adopt an attitude of curiosity?

Perhaps the introduction of new possibilities (the anxiety) might grow your heart and transform the world for the better?

 

Of course, as we are accustomed to feeling that bats are scary, going into a cave of the flighted mammals might still frighten us.

Rational mind be damned, anxiety is scary; isn’t it?

But perhaps, just perhaps, the something new on the horizon might cleanse us?

I understand John Lennon’s words, “You may say I’m a dreamer.”

I might be.

But let me go back to the words of my BFF, Larry, who told me that I must choose to have hope, “I would rather live with hope and be occasionally wrong, than to live without it and be always right.”

And let me end with the words of Václav Havel. He tells us that, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable new possibilities, we must have hope.

Hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless, such as prison) I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul; it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but, rather, an ability to work for something that is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from ‘elsewhere.; It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem hopeless as ours do, here and now.

Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer resides in Portland, Oregon. He is the founder and head of Religion-Outside-The-Box oldrotb.wpengine.com, an internet-based, global group of 3K+ digital-age seekers. ROTB produces excellent spiritual content.

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