For the past few years, I’ve been on a spiritual journey that I never planned on taking. It’s been something that just had to happen, after leaving the STEM field and coming home to be a stay at home mother which has challenged me in so many unexpected ways.
As I meet fellow my fellow humans and speak with them (in real life and online), one common thread among them is this pervasive sense of anxiety that is crippling many caring, loving and intelligent minds.
I see so many people self-medicating their anxieties away with drugs, alcohol, food, sex, religion and even hyper-intellectualizing, or medicating themselves with prescribed pharmaceuticals.
I’ve used some of those ways to manage my own feelings when I felt my anxieties running high. But I’ve been looking for much more life-affirming activities to take the place of activities that cause me more problems.
I’d rather use yoga and meditation as a way to cultivate self-discipline. I’d rather read and listen to spiritual teachers like Pema Chodron, the Dalai Lama and Eckhart Tolle to train my mind, rather than grab a glass of wine or throw back a beer or three like so many I know do.
And as I continue to meet beautiful minds plagued with a pervasive sense of hopelessness, despair, loneliness and bitterness, I’ve been wondering what good can come from the anxiety (and concomitant depression) we seem gripped by. Is anxiety simply an inevitable by-product of the modernization of our world, or can anxiety be a useful tool in the development of mankind?
I found this interesting bit by Dr. Richard House, who writes in his article, The Age of Pervasive Anxiety for The Mother magazine:
…rather than anxiety being seen as a problem, or some kind of pathological condition that needs to be cured (e.g. to be magicked away with a dose of cognitive behaviour therapy [CBT], positive thinking or psychotropic medication),
the issue is, rather, how we can dare, first, to allow ourselves to be fully aware of our multiple anxieties, and then how we can find ways of living productively with them. It might even be a sign of maturity that we are able to somehow welcome anxiety, and view it as a gift that can assist us on our journey of fully realising our deepest humanity.
And I wonder if people who are grappling with some severe cases of anxiety could embrace the gift of anxiety as part of their developmental and spiritual growth instead of reaching for the pharmaceuticals or the expensive therapies to get rid of their anxiety.
Eckhart Tolle believes, as Carl Jung did, “what we resist, persists” and says in his book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose that
Humanity is destined to go beyond suffering, but not in the way the ego thinks. One of ego’s many erroneous assumptions, one of its many deluded thoughts is, “I should not have to suffer.”
That thought itself lies at the root of suffering. Suffering has a noble purpose: the evolution of consciousness and the burning up of the ego…
As long as you resist suffering, it is a slow process because the resistance creates more ego to burn up. When you accept suffering, however, there is an acceleration of that process by which is brought about by the fact that you suffer consciously…
In the midst of conscious suffering, there is already the transmutation. The fire of suffering becomes the light of consciousness.
The ego says, “I shouldn’t have to suffer,” and that thought makes you suffer so much more. It is a distortion of the truth, which is always paradoxical. The truth is that you need to say yes to suffering before you can transcend it.
I believe this is true, not just on an intellectual level, but on an emotional and spiritual level.
In my own experiences, I’ve seen where the grip of my ego has brought harm to not only those around me, but to myself as well.
Most people, who don’t know me that well, know me to be kind, generous, and loving. And I am. And yet, those close to me also know that I can be gripped by strong negative emotions – and I’ve spewed some volcanic emotions at times. Why? Well, I’ve developed some pretty strong ego-defense mechanisms as a result of the emotional and psychological abuse of my childhood. People who aren’t close to me aren’t allowed into the secret corridors of my psyche.
People who are close to me are like Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, and have triggered some of the traps and felt the explosive effects of my unhealed trauma. I’ve hurt enough people and I’ve felt enough suffering from these incidents to know that it’s time for a different approach to my life.
I want a non-reactive emotional life. I want freedom from ego. I want to not let other people’s egoic reactions trigger my own.
Tolle says that the beginning of transformation is the recognition of the illusions the ego wishes us to hold on to. When we can become wise to the deceiving ego, it falls away without effort. Paradoxically, the more effort we take to resist the ego’s efforts, the stronger it becomes.
As Einstein once said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results”.
So, let’s do something different, shall we?