Friday, October 7, 2016

Addicted to Anxiety

"Deep Peace"
- a desert sunset -

Last evening as I tuned into CNN to get a report on the hurricane threatening Florida, I discovered that all the “24 news stations” were excitedly and almost-enthusiastically bursting with “Breaking News” about the impending storm. Over-wrought reporters dressed in layers of protective rain gear stood in oceanside communities predicting that this would be the “worst hurricane in the modern era” and would likely be the cause of many deaths. Some reports suggested that the impending storm damage might “wipe out parts of the Florida coast making it uninhabitable for months.”   This 24-hour “Breaking-News” hurricane coverage had begun early that afternoon and was expected to continue well into the night.

As it turned out, the hurricane was serious but it not as dire as predicted. Actually I tuned in again this morning and it almost seemed as if all those hyperactive reporters were somewhat disappointed over the fact that the predicted storm apocalypse never materialized. This morning’s news began shifting back to covering the outrageous events of presidential politics, hyping the upcoming “epic debate” between the candidates.

I wonder if all those “sensational” Breaking News stories like yesterday's hurricane coverage is symptomatic of a deeper condition in our culture, emblematic of  a heightened degree of angst and anxiety that seems to be so deeply embedded in our psyche?

We live in a world of terrorism and shootings, nasty and even vile politics, hurricanes and earthquakes loom on the fringes of our psyche – so much angst.  Breaking News taps into that anxiety but more than that, because disaster drives up ratings, perhaps the “news” stokes the burning embers.  

I also wonder if, in some sense, we are almost addicted to our anxiety. Is it possible that, like any drug, we hate our “angst” and yet at the same time we have become so used to it that we can’t seem to do without it?

Our addiction to anxiety robs us of a deep peace.

In the Christian tradition, deep peace is defined as a peace that passes all understanding. I’ve always liked that definition because you can’t think your way into deep peace, you can’t reason your way into it. Deep peace goes beyond human understanding.

In my own life I experience this sense of deep peace whenever I encounter the enduring truth that “I” am more than a separated individual ego inside a tiny human body. I experience deep peace when I realize that “I” am a relationship with the cosmos. I experience a peace that goes beyond understanding when “God,” A Holy Presence, the Universal Energy of Love “sparks” within my being and makes me feel connected with everything and everyone else.

And so, even in the midst of all my own anxieties, as hurricanes rage and disaster threatens, I can be at peace because I know that Love flows in and through it all and Love won’t let me go.

I find it very interesting that in most “wisdom” traditions of the major world religions, the practice of equanimity is embraced as a primary virtue on the spiritual journey. As I see it, “equanimity” is another word for the “deep peace” I am talking about.

I find this definition to be especially helpful”

Equanimity is the stability of mind
that allows us to be present with an open heart
to everything that comes our way,
no matter how wonderful or how difficult.

On a spiritual journey we aren’t transported out of this world into some other “higher world” or loftier place; instead the spiritual path leads us directly into the heart of this world where we find ourselves each day. It places us in the midst of everyday reality with all its joys and all its sorrows, all its suffering and all its pleasure, all its assurances and all its doubts.  If we have a stability of mind, we will find that deep peace and not anxiety lies beneath it all.

I am reminded of a blessing used by the pre-Christian Celtic Druids. In light of a hurricane off the coast of Florida today, I offer this blessing to all of us:

Deep peace of the Running Wave to you.
Deep peace of the Flowing Air to you.
Deep peace of the Quiet Earth to you.
Deep peace of the Shining Stars to you.
Deep peace!

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