Common AnxietyRevan Filiaexdeus I Spirituality & Religion I Commentary I July 5th, 2013
Anxiety is a common human experience. Every day, each and every one of us has to make choices that have some measurable impact on the present and future, and indeed, the perception of the past. This is a fact of life, one as equally as important as the problem of human suffering. Anxiety can be seen as a level of suffering. The second noble truth of the Gautama Buddha is that desire leads to suffering.
Desire leads to suffering, choice leads to anxiety. Søren Kierkegaard perhaps defined it best, anxiety being the "the dizziness of freedom." In short, a common person is presented with a measure of choice in his life. Whether the frame of reference be long term or short term, in the Now or in the eternal perspective, the span of a few days or a few years, there are choices to be made. In choosing one thing, we often feel like we are losing something else; instead of going to the bowling alley, I will go to the movies, or perhaps instead of converting to Islam, I will choose to be a Christian.
I myself am all too familiar with the problems of anxiety. It greets me in many forms. For example, social anxiety - a feeling caused by interacting with too many people at once. For me, it is an existential problem; I'm not really interacting with anyone at all if I reach a critical mass of so many people. I experience "cosmic anxiety" over the suffering of those I see around me. I experience anxiety when I just live life, it seems. I can't get away from it.
Our society, by nature, encourages this sort of anxiety. We are presented with an extraordinarily wide variety of choices in material product, and we are taught from birth that this is the measure of our existence. Wealth is might, and might is right. Advertisements present both problem and solution; until we saw the cute Coca-Cola polar bear near Christmas time, we didn't have a craving for the product. As suddenly as one advertisement leaves us, another begins; and with an array of media - print, radio, television, buses, benches, billboards, floors, sidewalks, t-shirts - one could go on.
Individual anxiety translates to collective anxiety. From a purely pragmatic economic and social standpoint, such suffering-caused-anxiety is far more prevalent in Western, democratic-republican societies than in totalitarian states. When there is less choice, there is less anxiety.
As I stand outside, smoking a cigarette, I have in plain view: eight restaurants, one dental clinic, one shop for the sale of mattresses, the fuel dispensary upon which I stand, and two separate vendors which sell automobiles for the consumption of that fuel.
That is the trick by which society maintains its grasp: we are convinced from birth that we are consumers, and that consumption is not only our birthright but our very privilege for which we should be thankful to the prevailing powers and defend it at all costs, whether that defense necessitates/calls for the sacrifice of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, either domestic or foreign.
Indeed, we are continually taught that there is such a thing as "domestic" and "foreign" - that one particular group of people or another are not our brethren for some arbitrary factor or another.
Thus, as long as we continue to believe that we are consumers, such consumption will continue: we consume not only material things but religion, sports, spouses, friendships, education, and perceived personal well-being, until we are nothing more than a shriveled husk to be thrown in a mass-produced coffin.
Our existence has become specific and specialized to ease this consumption: all possible consumable things have a specific place where they are to be consumed, with the majority of utility being wasted in a heartbeat. More and more of our collective existence resembles that which we are told we are: an endless, insatiable vacuum into which input is funneled, and the excreted output waste is further consumed by the "lowest" factors of society, to be recycled back into the process once more.
We are taught that variety is the spice of life, and certainly, that variety must be found in our endless consumption! And so we have not just simple, wholesome food, but Starbucks, Wendy's, McDonalds, the Mom and Pop diner, and the cafeteria of the school/prison industrial complex (of which I have increasing difficulty in separating; I am sure that East Ridge High School students have some understanding of what I mean).
There is not just fresh water, but Dasani, Aquafina, fluoridated and unfluoridated tap, and the personal water filter to remove the clearly harmful naturally-occurring minerals.
We have not merely satisfactory raiment, but the suburban Cottonwood, Oakwood, and Cedarwood to choose from!
We have not merely clothes, but Hollister, Target, and Tripp.
And, of course, we have not merely a relationship to Divinity, but Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism in all of its sizes and flavors.
And yet with all of this variety, some still go hungry, without a shirt on their back, or even a single bottle of blessed Dasani to drink from.
I live with a few clothes; I eat what would normally go to waste. I drink mountain and tap water, and I have no religion except for faithful service to those that need it. My superfluous possessions are paper, pen, and on rare occasion, some electronic device. In this manner of living, I am called deprived while I am yet perfectly happy, and the materially blessed of society I council daily to prevent them from turning a gun upon their own heads.
Is this Paradise or is it a Brave New World? Have we won or have we lost? Huxley's Scientific Hell has been realized on Earth - what then can save us?
Is it even possible to make a choice that limits anxiety?
Truthfully, the solutions to such common anxiety have been among us for thousands of years.
"Is not life more than food and clothes? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"
LOVE! Love is the singular salvation of this people from a mindless slavery. If you are caught in a fleeting hill-top romance, the choice between a McChicken and a footlong ceases to be relevant. The true and unconditional Love of a parent for a child is the ultimate destruction to their anxiety at choosing career, spouse, and home. With Love, the homeless man is fed, the office worker is kept from suicide, and the lonely woman receives her first true kiss - and in the midst of all this, you will quite wonder as to why you ever bothered with such trivial nonsense in the first place.
This will become life's greatest pleasure to you. Would you experience difficulty in choosing a pile of gold over a pile of manure? Unless you are a truly blessed and wise farmer, the choice is clear and obvious. Why, then, would you ever stop to bother with that which does not bring you pleasure in this life and the next, if you believe in such?
Stop, and merely ask yourself - what pleasure do you gain in choosing between a Big Mac and a Grande Burrito? Really think about it. Whence does the pleasure flow in your essential similarity in style, manner, voice and choice to your neighbor?
Society, in an aggressive attempt to perpetuate itself and no other, has convinced the common Man, Woman, and Other - ergo: YOU - to surrender the life of Love and all its pleasures in favor of a life of consumption, to sacrifice your true liberty in Love in favor of the choice of your coffin and the manner of entering it, and the wholesale annihilation of your pursuit of happiness because you are told you are a happy people, happy to consume, living on the greatest nation on Earth - great because it so resembles in all the perfection the Babylon of old.
To the Apostle John, Love is God Himself.
To the Bahai teacher and son of Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, "Love is the mystery of divine revelations ... breath of the Holy Spirit inspired into the human spirit ... [and] the cause of manifestation of truth ... !"
From the beginning, Buddha taught love as the answer to suffering, the principle of Karuṇā: compassion and mercy unto others.
With the idea that Love is God, the words of Jesus in answering anxiety are ineffably clear:
So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and [LOVE] knows that you need them. But seek first [Love's domain] and [Love's works], and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.