Beliefnet
Serenity in an Age of Anxiety

butterfly by Anatoli Styf  Blake* was the kind of woman other women wanted to be like and men liked to be with. Between her intelligence, effervescence and attractiveness, she was hard to ignore when she walked into a room. A few years ago she moved to a new city and for the first time in her life had a difficult time making friends. As her ambivalence about her new home grew into aversion, she found herself losing confidence and feeling dispirited.

 

One evening she tagged along with some acquaintances to happy hour.  As they left the restaurant, they passed several young men who rated the women in her group as they walked by. Because she was pretty, Blake was accustomed to rebuffing unwanted attention. She would roll her eyes or if pushed, describe in colorful terms what the accoster could do with their comments. She was confident in her 9 or 10-ness.

 

“There’s a six,” one man declared as she strode by.

 

“A six?” Blake said indignantly when she told the story later.  “I was so shocked that for the rest of the night all I could think of was, ‘I’m a six’.” When the shock wore off, she had to admit she let herself become a six. Her unhappiness and lack of confidence had changed her. Blake’s inability to make friends in a city where she felt like she did not belong told her she was not the person she thought. In the mirror she looked exactly the same but she was no longer connected to her true self.

 

How others see us is not as important as how we see ourselves obviously, but we must acknowledge the connection and how we allow the opinions of others and our experiences to affect us. We project our own worldview, history and prejudices on others and they on us to the point that it is hard to know who we are apart from the conflicting external feedback.  The ancient philosophical question, ‘if a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?’ could be reframed to, ‘if you are perfectly fine and nobody notices are you still lovable?’ Are you kind only if others confirm your kindness? Are you desirable depending on whether the boys on the corner rate you an 8 or higher? Are you worthwhile only if you have the job, perfect children or loving partner to prove it?

 

When we are connected to our true selves which is the energy of love, what happens around us may shake us temporarily or elevate our anxiety for a time but then like Blake and Taylor Swift, we can shake it off by remembering our innate ten-ness. Our behavior or life situation may not be perfect or as we want but these are separate from who we are.

Blog #14

*Not her real name

By KellepicsImagine you are relaxing with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and suddenly Jesus appears in front of you. If Jesus is not your go to guy, then Abraham or Buddha.  Someone you believe is a bridge to something bigger than yourself.  For Millie, she imagines the Goddess Isis when she needs support. Whoever this figure is, pretend he/she/it appears in front of you in all their glory.

 

Now imagine feeling completely loved as if you were enveloped in the ultimate warm and soothing blanket because that would be the feeling if this figure was in front of you. Once you adjust to their presence, you hear a voice that says:

 

“I have come to offer you a great gift. If you agree, I will take away all of your fear. There will be no obstacles to peace of mind but you will no longer recognize your life.”

 

Do you want the superpower of fearlessness?  Not recklessness, but a life not controlled by fear.  Think about it. What would your life be like if you were not anxious about how others saw you, abandonment or survival?  You would still care for people and be kind but would not behave or make decisions based on fear vs. what you want.

 

You may be strong and adventurous already. Perhaps you are a success in your chosen field and are the sort of person that gets things done but these qualities are not the same as fearlessness. No matter how prosperous or popular you are, everyone is afraid of something even if it is just losing all the wonderful stuff you have.

 

Jon Paul* is a successful doctor. When asked if he would accept the gift of a life without fear, he declined. ‘As much as I wish I could,’ he explained, ‘fear has been a factor in so many of my decisions that I am afraid of what my life might be.’ The idea that there could be a life without fear intrigued him but in the ultimate irony, a life without fear scared him.

 

The world contains no fear that you have laid not upon it. And none you cannot ask love’s messengers to remove from it.   A Course in Miracles

 

What would you do if you were not afraid?  Is anxiety protecting you from danger or a convenient excuse to avoid a fuller life?  Jon Paul has decided to start looking at how fear may be holding him back. He is not ready to throw caution to the wind but perhaps ask if he needs quite so much.

 

*Not his real name.

 

 

 

 

 

F100006469Anxiety has a large extended family. Anger and depression are its siblings. Loneliness, disconnection and unworthiness are cousins on one side of the family and blame, shame and guilt are on the other. Fear is the parent as all anxiety is born of fear. The black sheep who nobody likes to talk about are violence, revenge  and hate. They make the rest of the family nervous but are relatives nonetheless.

 

The Peace of Mind family is tightly knit with love and happiness as the indulgent patriarch and matriarch.   There is joy, contentment and connection but it is sometimes hard to distinguish one from the other. The relatives of anxiety appear diverse and plentiful because misery has many forms. Tolstoy famously observed in his novel, Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

 

Tolstoy’s words have endured because they resonate. Happiness and peace of mind has a homogenous feel but there is a way that all unhappiness is also more similar than it first appears. From an energetic perspective, the Peace of Mind family represents the expressions of love or the true self.  (See Blog #3- What Einstein Knew.)  When you feel love, gratitude and joy, it is because you remember you are connected to the Peace of Mind family.  No need to pack your bags and search for where you belong, it is and has always been your true family.  Everything that is ‘not love’ and that list is long, is in the Unhappiness/Anxiety Family.  The many forms of misery are what happen when you get forget your ancestry is love.  All unhappiness is the same ‘not love’ just as all happiness is a version of love.

 

All of the energy of ‘not love’ is generated by fear, much of it justified. Everyday someone is shot, assaulted or eaten by a shark. Your job could be moved to India or given to a robot.  There is always someone younger, with 6-pack abs or more fun that your partner may prefer. Over a lifetime, someone will break your heart or betray you no matter what you do or how you protect yourself. Even if warranted, fear must be resolved or anxiety naturally follow. You could identify and tackle your fears one by one but there will always be another so you will run out of life before you run out of worries.   Better to take on the root of fear itself which is ‘not love’ than wrestle with its manifestations.

 

What is the fear behind the election of a corrupt politician or a lost job?  What does it mean if you catch the flu or your kids won’t talk to you? A gun in every school incites fear because of what you decide this idea means.  An incident or thought stirs up the energy of ‘not love’.  Because of (fill in incident or fear), I will be alone, am unworthy or unsafe.  Somebody could harm your body or hurt someone you care about so the challenge is how to connect with your family of love in a world full of ‘not love’.

 

The crazy idea you have to accept to unravel the paradox of feeling safe in an unsafe world is to not identify yourself as a body. The real ‘you’ is a bundle of love energy temporarily encased in a physical body that you cannot keep safe because no bodies survive life on earth. If your body is ruined, your friends desert you and you die alone, you are exactly the same energy of love. Love remains because you cannot destroy energy. Eat Brussels sprouts, exercise and be kind to others so you can feel as good as possible while here but the reason nothing can hurt you is because you are not that biological mass with brown eyes, ten extra pounds and irritable bowel syndrome. That is just the temporary house you inhabit. You are love. All the anger, fear and loneliness you feel is a manifestation that you temporarily forgot your roots and thought you were somehow worthless, unlovable and in danger.

 

This may be a bit much to accept but consider how this concept can free you.  If true, nothing can hurt you.

Post #12

Next time: What Would Your Life Be Without Fear?

owl-eyes by Kristof Degreef      Luna* was worried. about her teenage son, Riley*.  The frequent school shootings and ongoing media coverage were stirring up everyone and she wanted to stay connected with him. She knew the teenage brain is a bit like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans in that you never know what you are going to get.  Nonetheless, when Riley revealed that he wondered what the shooter was thinking and how he felt, Luna’s mouth fell open but nothing came out.  She waited for him to talk about the victims or their families but he was stuck on the shooter. In Luna’s mind, a dark fear took form. Why is Riley so interested in the shooter? Is there something wrong with him?

 

There is nothing wrong with Riley. He is a typical though somewhat impulsive teenager who tends to speak first and think later. He has friends and does well at school but his emotional immaturity has gotten him in more than his fair share of trouble. Before he got to high school and found his niche, he experienced plenty of  bullying.  Those days are behind him but shaky self-esteem and mild anxiety persist.

 

When somebody starts shooting unarmed people, he becomes a predator and everyone else is the prey. This victimizer, whether he/she is a shooter, a sexual predator or bully often started out as a victim. 1 Fear is the main component of post-traumatic stress syndrome and being a victim is traumatizing. Since research suggests one of the ways to recover from trauma is to empower yourself,  it makes sense that prey could see becoming a predator as a way to elevate themselves out of fear.  In one horrible minute, goodbye anxiety, hello empowerment.

 

If Riley is focused on how he would rather be a predator than the prey, he will identify with the shooter even though he lacks violent tendencies.  This may also explain why no matter how many children are killed, there is a vocal contingency who decry any attempts to restrict access to guns. They are terrified of anything that could potentially move them towards prey. Forget Prozac, exercise or mindfulness meditation and let me keep my guns.

 

Thankfully, Luna did not yell, “what’s wrong with you?” at Riley.  Once she got over her knee jerk reactions, she recognized his response as the symptom of anxiety that it is. Unfortunately, when it comes to gun violence, we are yelling, “what’s wrong with you?” at each other rather than addressing the underlying anxiety that keeps us identifying as either predators and prey.

 

Remember, anxiety is just one area we are trying to navigate in this dream we call life.  One symptom that looks like it has a hundred facets but underneath there is only one cause, separation. Unhappiness in all its forms is what happens when we feel separated from ourselves and others.

 

1 https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/cycle-of-child-sexual-abuse-links-between-being-a-victim-and-becoming-a-perpetrator/A98434C25DB8619FB8F1E8654B651A88

2 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3109/00048670903270407?journalCode=anpa

*Not their real names.

Post #11

girls_head_silhouette_at_sunset_2-800x533      Selma* picked up her Zoloft and wondered for at least the hundredth time, if she could  stop taking it. Periodically, she cut it in half or if she was feeling particularly rebellious, skip a few doses.  She felt exactly the same. At least for a few days.  Then the anxiety would start creeping back. Sometimes she forgot she had messed around with her medication and was later surprised and overtaken by panic.

 

The doctor diagnosed her with generalized anxiety disorder.  Because her brother had the same condition, Selma told herself the anxiety was genetic or a biological wiring problem beyond her control. After all, it was not her fault she was  born a sensitive child then forced to grow up in a violent household.

 

Research suggests that stress delivered frequently and under the right conditions, trains the nervous system so the automatic response to uncertainty is anxiety.1,2 The more often the body has an exaggerated stress response, the easier it becomes to illicit that reaction until even mild provocations like a raised voice or slammed door can be traumatic.

 

Medication can blunt these overly sensitive pathways or calm the brain to control symptoms but does not fix the underlying problem. Mostly because we do not completely understand the neurobiology of anxiety. Anxiety is not one thing but a spectrum of disorders and biochemical pathways. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), a cognitive therapy used to help people change unhelpful behavior patterns plus medication is the usual prescription for those in Selma’s situation. Exercise, diet and mindfulness meditation to rewire the brain are also recommended. Even with all these tools, so many still suffer.

 

What is rarely explored is the surprising link between anxiety and lack of connection.  We worry because we do not feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves. What if this is all there is? Where do I belong? Even with family and friends around we may be afraid we don’t belong or are not truly loved.  We obsess about what we need or must do to be worthy. If we are anxious enough we form groups to create a false sense of connection by marginalizing or keeping others out. Exclusion, blame and hate being the festering forms of anxiety.

 

Selma had friends and accomplishments. She meditated, exercised and ate her vegetables. Her self-esteem was solid, her personality large and yet…..something fundamental was missing.  Most people would say the opposite of anxiety is calmness or peace of mind but the overlooked antonym is connection. What Selma lacked was a sense of being connected to something. She went through the motions of trying to make that connection through a group, church and family, and for all appearances succeeded.  And yet she still felt disjointed. And that is because the connection that sooths the anxious soul is the link between all of us. Not our connection to outer affiliations.

 

 

It looks like there is an us vs. them:  The girls vs. boys, the reds vs. the blues, the haves vs. the have nots. But separation is an illusion.  We are all connected energetically whether we like the people around us or not. We don’t have to warm-up to someone’s personality or approve of their behavior but we do need to remember we are connected. When we forget, we feel isolated, then scared and then no amount of therapy, medication or group joining will fix the resulting anxiety. The cure to what ails our spirit is found in how we are linked, not the ways we are separate.

 

*Not her real name.

Post #10

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001691807001369

http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2006-00920-002