Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Spiritual Epidemic

"Do Not Be Anxious"

The columnist, David Brooks, just published a fascinating if not disconcerting op-ed piece in this morning’s New York Times in which he talked about the Epidemic of Worry that seems to be sweeping throughout this nation in these weeks before the upcoming presidential election.

According to a recent study published by the American Psychological Association, more than half of the entire population of this country is feeling significant degrees of stress and anxiety in these pre-election weeks.  Many citizens believe that, if their candidate of choice is not elected, the entire society will fall down a slippery slope into a pit of chaos and destruction. Many people are more than a little concerned over this election, they are really worried -  a worry that has become a national epidemic.

In this morning’s article, Mr. Brooks offers an important insight into the nature of “worrying” in general.  Worries often stem from something very specific (a worry that arises from a particular act of terrorism, a worry about an upcoming election); but a specific “worry” has a way of morphing onto a perpetual state of anxiety that underlies everything people do and say in the everyday routine of life. This pervasive, underlying anxiety is corrosive and destructive to living a life of peace and joy.

Brooks observes:

Worry alters the atmosphere of the mind,
it shrinks your awareness of the present
and your ability to enjoy what’s around you right now.
It cycles possible bad futures around in your head
and forces you to live in dreadful future scenarios,
90 percent of which will never come true.
Pretty soon you are seeing the world through a dirty windshield.
Worry dims every sunrise and amplifies mistrust.

The way I see it, the goal of any spiritual path is to help us embrace each present moment in which we can indeed “enjoy what is around us here and now.” Since worry prevents us from doing this, it is indeed a deadly spiritual poison that infects our system and destroys and decays our souls.

It seems to me that when a sweeping epidemic like an influenza is identified, the entire culture rallies all its resources to stop it from spreading, to cure it and inoculate against it. Since “worry”  is a spiritual epidemic corroding our personal lives and infecting the life of the entire nation,  it seems to me that we all need to raise our consciousness about how much we may worry, rally our resources against it, and do our best to let it go.

The Buddha taught that “clinging” to anything (ideas, possessions, fears, anxieties or worries) is spiritually destructive and that the way to deeper peace is to “let go” of our tight grip on life. Jesus taught something very similar as he walked through a field of flowers with his disciples who were consumed with their problem and worries about their futures, and told them:

Do not worry so much about your life…
See how the flowers in the field grow,
they do not labor and yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory
was not clothed as one of these.
So do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.

The other day I came across one of Mark’s Twain’s famous quips. In these weeks before an anxiety-producing election, maybe we would all do well to read this from time to time:

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles,
but most of them have never happened.

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