Thursday, July 6, 2017

Constant Anxiety

"Clear and Bright"
- Sunrise at the Desert Retreat House -

The TV news was turned on in a local restaurant the other day as we were eating lunch. A “Breaking News” story came on the air announcing that North Korea had launched an ICBM that now poses a very real threat to the United States. As the ominous news blared out in the background I overheard the conversation of a couple sitting at a table next to us: “O great, as if we didn’t already have enough to worry about – now it’s a nuclear missile aimed at us by a crazy dictator!”

The comment made me think that worry and anxiety have become the “order of the day” for many citizens in these chaotic times. Lots of people are worried about lots of things. In fact, for the most part, many people live in a state of constant anxiety. People worry about health care, they worry about their jobs, their families, finances and relationships. We worry about politics at home and abroad. We worry about terrorist attacks and mass shootings and now one more thing to worry about - a nuclear missile “aimed at us by a crazy dictator.”

The other day, as I listened to that comment about “one more thing to worry about,” I recalled something I came across a while back in an op-ed piece in the New York Times. The article suggested that anxiety that stems from a specific event (like the possibility of a ICBM missile aimed at the U.S.) has a way of “morphing” into 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:

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, seeing the world through a clear lens and enjoying 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.

Of course we should be concerned about terrorism and nuclear threats but when we allow our anxieties to constantly eat away at us, we will be unable to enjoy any degree of spiritual well-being.

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.

I am reminded of one of Mark’s Twain’s famous quips, 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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