Serenity in an Age of Anxiety

It was only 6:00 AM and the roads were already covered with snow. I was slated to present at a conference in New York the next morning and my flight was at 3:00. The weather channel said the storm would be over by noon, but Delta had canceled several afternoon flights already. I thought of a few lines from Michael Singer’s book, ‘The Surrender Experiment.’ *


“For years I had been diligently working to free myself of that weak person inside who always insisted on things being the way he wanted.”


I could relate and recognized a snowy day at the airport as an opportunity to manage my thoughts. Whenever frustration or disappointment bubbled up, I could choose serenity. For a moment I sat quietly and checked in with my intuition. My sense was everything would be fine. I would be pleasant and happy no matter what. If God could laugh, she would have.



First Comes Fear


My phone rang. ‘I hope you are not driving to the airport,’ a friend said with concern.  ‘People are sliding off the road.’ My last car would slide to the right if I braked on ice. My heart rate goes up whenever I think about icy roads and past near misses. The snow was falling harder than ever and I would have to leave soon to make my flight.


My unhelpful thoughts take their cue and jump in.  ‘It’s dangerous out there.  Maybe I shouldn’t go. What if I get in an accident?’ My mind has chosen fear and holds happiness hostage. I will not accept this but also want to pay attention in case I need to change course. I take a few breaths, get quiet and check. All is still well.  I pack up and drive to the airport. ‘See, this is going to be easy.’


The traffic is no worse than usual.  By the time I arrive, the snow has changed to sleet. I get soaked walking to the bus in the economy lot. Irritation arrives. Airline travel is not fun anymore, I think as my squish my way on to the bus. I notice the thought’s potential to ruin my mood and try to ignore it.


My flight is now two hours delayed.  There is no place to sit so I wander down another corridor looking for a place to eat. This airport is so poorly designed I think irritably and then scratch that thought. By the time I return to the gate, my flight has been cancelled. I cue up in a long line of people waiting to be rescheduled.


I notice I am on the verge of cranky and decide to start a friendly conversation with the man ahead of me. He is on his way to Wisconsin.  I tell him I need to be in New York tomorrow but doubt I will make it.  “You need to think positive,” he instructs. “Call the airline while you are waiting here in case the service is faster.”


“You are absolutely right,” I reply, thankful for the reminder.  I leave my number for a call back.


The line creeps along and my new acquaintance is no longer feeling so positive. “The airline representative is completely unhelpful,” he reports. “Notice the unhappy faces of people who have talked to him.”



I realize I am not going to make it to New York, I realize. The airline rep is indeed unhelpful. He offers me a flight that would arrive after my return flight would have left. I am no longer on the verge of cranky but am full on irritated. Maybe my intuition is not so hot after all.


Then it hit me. Everything is fine.  I am healthy and safe. My flight was cancelled and  I would miss my presentation. Thinking positive is not a way to bully the universe into making things go my way. It is a strategy to choose serenity rather than discontent. The incident would be a minor footnote within a week.


On the slushy drive home I called my sister. “For the first time in decades I am going to miss a talk,” I confessed.


“Better not to travel in this mess,” she opined. “Why don’t you just video conference?”


I did, though it took a few hours to arrange. It turned out just fine.















     Take a minute or two and write down what you believe makes you unhappy.  Life altering events such as a traumatic childhood, sexual assault or cancer diagnosis may leap to mind first but also include ongoing disappointments such as a nasty boss or loneliness. Don’t forget everyday annoyances like bad drivers or computer glitches.  Big or small, include anything that comes to mind.


Look over the list and make sure it is a fair representation of your disappointments, betrayals, misfortunes and challenges. Conventional wisdom suggests these are the causes of your unhappiness. They are not. If a Genie made the entire list disappear, by tomorrow there would be a new set of frustrations and regrets.


No event or circumstance can cause unhappiness.  They are neutral:  A tree feel, a lump appeared, someone died. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt,  you have to give something permission to make you feel bad. Experiences have no meaning until you decide they do.  These decisions made consciously and unconsciously all day, determine whether you are happy or not. Therefore, the cause of all unhappiness is the mind.


Since the mind is the cause, the solution is mastery of the mind’s continuous flow of judgements, assessments and thoughts. Like a demanding toddler, the mind has something to say about everything all day, every day.  It likes, dislikes, wants, doesn’t want, is afraid, angry, jealous, insecure or stuck on something you don’t want to think about. It’s nature is to take over. Yackity, yack, yack it goes with no ability to take your best interests into account. The mind’s reactions control you unless you control them.


Fortunately, the mind is manageable but mind regulation is not for the faint of heart. Few thoughts are neutral so all must be monitored and corrected. Every fear, anger, frustration, guilt, disappointment, judgment and longing cannot pass through unchallenged. They are the result of the mind choosing distress rather than serenity. Watch your mind for 5 minutes and you will discover dozens of them. Are you ready to take them on?









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.