Beliefnet
Serenity in an Age of Anxiety

john_lennon      Do you remember the first time you heard John Lennon’s song, Imagine?  The sixties are over, but the mind expanding and radical sentiments are not.

 

 

 

 

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

No religion, too

Imagine all the people, living life in peace

 

You may say I am a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

John Lennon 1971

 

I have added a new verse for our times:

 

Imagine no one’s special

It is something you can do

No one to judge or be better than

They have value, too

Imagine all the people, thinking they’re worthwhile

 

Lennon may not appreciate the prose but I don’t think he would disagree. The need to feel more important than someone else, breeds discontent and resentment. The special, by definition, get the lion’s share of consideration, admiration and maybe even love.  They get a disproportionate piece of what is perceived as a limited pie. The less special get the leftovers or nothing. When people believe others are getting their fill while they are still hungry, both metaphorically and sometimes physically, they feel threatened and are angry. Shared goals and mutual respect fly out the window, replaced with individual goals and defensiveness.

 

While excellence deserves to be acknowledged and encouraged, regard should not be withheld from those who do not meet the cultural standard. Everyone wants to be loved and appreciated whether they are a Nobel prize winner, a clerk at Walmart or the shut-in next store. The Nobel Prize winner is most important of the three if you have a gene slicing or astrophysics problem but is no more human or loveable. Further, the most gifted and special among us is only an illness or long life away from shut-in status

 

Some say everyone is special in their own way.  In theory, if we are all special, then we are all equally deserving.  A nice sentiment, except hidden in this sentiment are degrees of specialness. Some are more special than others. Then you are back to fighting for attention.

Imagine your best interests are not separate from those around you.  Imagine the best outcomes are those that benefit everyone. That everyone deserves kindness and consideration. You may say that I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us.  And the world will be as one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All is well

All is well

Late night calls usually mean bad news and this one was no different. It was Megan’s* best friend’s husband, Darrell, calling from the emergency room. Carrie’s back pain was not a strain as originally diagnosed, but metastasized cancer.  It was everywhere. There was no cure. Megan cried. Darrell cried. What were they going to do?

 

A sleepless night later, Megan got to work.  She researched the type of cancer, prognosis, treatment options and clinics with the best outcomes. Chemotherapy might buy some time but Carrie’s diagnosis was terminal. Megan is a fighter and sitting around while her friend faded away was not an option for her. She ignored the doctor’s prognosis, made calls and helped the devastated couple develop a plan. In their shocked state, they were grateful for her input.

 

Treatment commenced along with the expected vomiting, weight and hair loss, pain and depression. It was agonizing for Carrie and agonizing for those around her. Megan checked in daily, helped with her care and shaved Carrie’s head when the hair loss created large bald patches. As the weeks rolled into months, Megan was thrilled Carrie had surpassed the oncologist’s pessimistic prognosis, but she started to wonder how much a person should have to endure. Was survival worth any price?

 

One day, Megan found herself begging the emaciated Carrie to swallow another few bites of food. “How does Darrell make you eat?” she asked exasperated.

 

“If I become too impossible, he cries to make me feel guilty,” Carrie quipped to lighten the mood.  “That usually works.”

 

At this point, I can also cry on demand, Megan thought bitterly.  Cleaning up the uneaten food, she realized something was not right. In her determination to keep Carrie alive, she lost sight of what was most important. Whether Carrie survived or passed away, Megan wanted her to feel loved. Her number one goal was for Carrie to know that the love that connected them would never change.  They would both be alright.

 

In that moment, Megan surrendered.  She would not insist Carrie eat. She would not push additional therapies. She would still do what she could to help but would focus on laughing with Carrie and being present. For what felt like the first time in months, she took a deep, nourishing breath and relaxed.

 

Carrie had surrendered to her predicted demise, yet against all odds, lived. Her doctor remained pessimistic but the treatment appeared to be working anyway. Darrell called her, “a miracle”, but Carrie was not so sure. She was still in pain and the future was uncertain.

 

Megan and Carrie thought they had surrendered to certain death but now have to surrender again, to uncertain life. The future is always unknown even for those who believe they are in perfect health. To calm anxiety, we tell ourselves all is well, but Megan and Carrie have calmed themselves down by surrendering.  That way, no matter what happens, all is well.

*Not her real name.

 

 

 

Cannabis   Cannabadiol, a substance found in hemp and other cannabis family plants, is the new “it” food additive. Coca-Cola is watching the cannabis market with an eye on a CBD infused drink.[1]Last year, EverX introduced a sports drink with 10mg of CBD that promises to improve workout recovery.[2] There is CBD infused cereal, tea, gum, protein bars and chews with a bonus caffeine kick.  It is only a matter of time until CBD laden toddler teething biscuits and CBD boosted multiple vitamins are available at a store near you.

 

CBD’s meteoric rise in popularity is threatening to ruin a good thing. Unlike kale, the ‘it’ additive from a few years back or DHA, its predecessor, CBD is not ground up food or a brain-enhancing fat with no known toxicity. Nor is it like the usual vitamins or plant-based nutrients typically used to fortify foods. While there are always a few critics worried about potential toxicity from the nutrient fortification of foods, these have been theoretical worries. With the exceptions of calcium and vitamin D fortification, which are significant enough to correct dietary deficiencies, the small amount of vitamins or açaí essence added to make products look healthier are generally insignificant. For CBD, this is not the case.

 

Humans make CBD already. It is an active compound that modulates dozens, if not hundreds of biological pathways. There are receptors on most cells of the body that are specifically designed to bind CBD. In fact, CBD is part of an entire endocrine-like system that maintains homeostasis.  Anyone who takes CBD will be adding it to what they already make. While it has wide and wonderful inflammation and mood modulating properties, it is not something that if a little bit is helpful, loads more is better. Yet, that is exactly the philosophy driving the industry.

 

CBD is an expensive additive, so many products will advertise its presence as a marketing ploy, but will contain little. But some, like EverX will contain potentially therapeutic amounts. The average consumer could easily lose track of how much they ingest between food and supplements. Since we do not understand our internal endocannabinoid system well, who knows how this will affect people? It would be a gigantic uncontrolled experiment.

 

Uncontrolled experiments can lead to illuminating discoveries or blow up the lab. Given CBDs tenuous legality, if this ‘if-some-is-good-more-is-better’ free for all goes badly, we may lose over the counter access to CBD altogether.  That would be tragic. Use CBD therapeutically and thoughtfully, not indiscriminately.

 

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-17/coca-cola-eyes-cannabis-market-in-push-beyond-sluggish-sodas

[2] https://www.drinkeverx.com

butterfly by Anatoli StyfIn one year, Carmen’s* life fell apart. First, her husband left her and moved in with one of her best friends. Unbeknownst to her, he had borrowed money over the years to cover expenses and they were in debt. She loved her house but could no longer afford it. Just when she came up with a plan to rebuild her ravished finances, she was laid off. Finally, her youngest daughter left for college.

 

Childless, houseless and jobless, Carmen was lost. Her anxiety level, which was high under the best of circumstances, skyrocketed. She had grit, but she lacked a larger perspective. Without a developed spiritual life she could not see any purpose or have a framework to process all she had endured. She worked hard and was a good mother and wife, but her good behavior did not matter. Life was not fair. She upped her anti-anxiety medicine and tried to push down her bitterness.

 

Carmen’s bad situation is made worse by her unexplored spiritual side. She has no belief or theory about what she is doing here or what it all means.  There is no larger reason or even a philosophy to help her weather hardships. When the going gets rough, she pours an extra glass of wine and ups her medication. There is nothing wrong with these coping tools except they do not create happiness.

 

Part of reason Carmen never thought much about the meaning of life is because she never bought into any of the explanations provided by her early religious education. God and his self-appointed representatives on earth did not seem to be helping her much. By early adulthood she had thrown all of that religious and metaphysical stuff out the window. The only thing she could depend on was herself. She would remedy her anxiety herself and not worry about what it all means or what happens later.

 

There are many stories about people like Carmen who hit rock bottom, discover their true selves and find peace of mind. Eckhart Tolle and Neale Donald Walsch come to mind. We are told pain will force you to take action. When you lose everything you will let go, understand what is important and be full of gratitude. But why wait? Why let agony be your teacher when it is so much easier to learn when life is not in spiraling down the sewer. While some people learn best when under pressure, Carmen is too stressed and angry to think about anything except surviving the day and putting one foot in front of the other.

 

Look around.  Unless you are exceedingly lucky, something hard is coming your way. Your beliefs will evolve in response to those circumstances but a solid sense of purpose and a reason you are here will help tremendously when challenging times come. Now is the time to find something to believe in.

*Not her real name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connection‘Twelve adults and children were killed when a gunman opened fire….’

 

‘I am leaving you for someone new.’

 

‘The cancer has spread to the bones.’

 

Life is hard. People disappoint. Bodies are designed to fail. The difficult and painful cannot be avoided. If the definition of happiness is loving what is, to be happy, you have to make peace with unacceptable circumstances.  Grit and resilience are helpful for swimming through troubled waters but don’t engender peace. Peace and happiness require a larger context; something that explains why bad things happen to good people.

 

Science offers little. We are born; we live; we die. It is the cycle of life where we are asked to accept our part in the perpetuation of the continuous cycle. Small comfort for the lonely and those who want to know more. Religions fill in the gaps left by science with stories and promises to sooth our anxieties and threats to control our worst impulses. Behave now and later God will reveal the plan that makes all the difficulties and pain make sense. These explanations are suspicious. What kind of God sets up an insane obstacle course full of suffering where nobody can agree on the rules?

 

Kindness tends to generate kindness but no amount of good behavior prevents unacceptable things from happening. Ask anyone who lives in one of the 49 countries run by a dictator. Life does not  necessarily get better for the innocent. Only the sheltered or faithful believe everything works out in the end. Everyone else looks around and thinks, “I don’t think a loving God is responsible for this mess.”

 

Yet it is possible to be at peace. If our nature is a love that endures no matter what happens to our body or the bodies of those around us, we can accept the unacceptable. We can see life not as a reaction to the whims of a capricious God but a dream where we forgot who we really are. A dream where a God is not punishing anyone. A dream of duality, as a Buddhist might say, where we are separate from the love that connects all of us. We are miserable because we forgot and feel separate from the field of love that connects all of us.

 

Bodies get sick and die. People will leave our shared dream and we will miss them but they are not lost or in pain. Mediums who talk to the dead consistently report they are at peace and do not wish to return, no matter how violent or premature their departure. They are not suffering.

 

You don’t have to believe in mediums or God or the Buddhist idea that life is a dream, but to accept the unacceptable, believe in something. Something that does not suggest the crazy things that happen mean you or someone else is unloved or deserves punishment. Something that leaves nobody out.