a very American anxiety

on letting go | an introduction called

a very American anxiety

Turbulence is the tone and timbre of late, here in America but also globally, and no reprieve has been promised. No end seems to be in sight. No captain is coming over the loudspeaker to let us know that this is just a brief foray, please fasten your seatbelts and hold tight, this will all be over momentarily.

I’ve heard it said before (and/or seen it on quotable cards) that peace has more to do with being in a place of chaos and staying with yourself than with finding a lack of chaos somewhere else.

Challenge accepted, I guess.

To go with the rising tide of chaos, anxiety is reportedly more and more common lately. At least on a clinical (?!) level (whatever that means). Anecdotally and statistically, though, this seems obvious. Here and here are a few interesting treatises on the matter, as a sidenote. (Skewing more cultural, for what it’s worth.)

As a lifelong anxious being (is that a curse I just put on myself? never mind), I am not all that shocked. I’m more impatiently here for it. Finally, I am not alone at this party.

I don’t mean to come off as cute in saying that. But when Sarah Wilson shared the nugget of wisdom that “if you’re not anxious, you’re not paying attention,” I felt that heavily. Sometimes that sense of disorder is a cue that something is wrong. Whether it’s a past or present something.

So if you are sort of already wired to pay attention—and if there are more people thusly wired these days—since there are more people overall—

Yeah. It’s something of a perfect storm. A gut-churning, eyelid-twitching, muscle-gripping, 4 AM-waking storm.

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I really wanted this to start off on the level of a big, gushing waterfall of a reason for all of us to be anxious. Or for anxiety to threaten. But there are and have been so many such reasons over the last few weeks. So let’s start with two.

We’ve got the whole slew of recent women’s health related lawmaking events—that-which-shall-not-be-named. I say this mostly because I don’t even know what to call such a fiasco. Our Collective Almost-Handmaid’s Tale? Is that too melodramatic for this space?

We’ve also suffered the loss of a writer wildly influential to so many, myself included. Rachel Held Evans passed away at the end of April and left a void that is unbelievably vast.

I want to talk about both of these things because that’s what you do. It’s how you survive.

But also because there is no turning around from this.

There is no turning around because the coinciding of both events puts in stark relief the fact that there’s a lot of nonsense in what we are doing anymore. The old-world sort of stance of trying to legislate something very private, intimate and personal—an action which, mind, contradicts the original philosophy behind said stance—is getting very old and tiresome and sad. Humans have physical and emotional needs foremost, and how did we all forget this very basic thing so quickly?!

(Not to sound too surprised. Clearly most of our institutions and ideas were started with a foundation of ignoring said needs for most groups of people.)

And I understand the opposite perspective. Really, with all my heart, I do. It used to be mine. But there is no getting to a deeper place spiritually or morally without reconciling with this piece first.

Furthermore, a very eloquent and measured writer who was part of the community that arguably planted the seeds of this conflict—which I’ll just go ahead and say because I used to be/am sort of part of it, too—is gone. She cannot chime in with wisdom and guidance regarding this mess.

This turbulence is for the remainder of the flight. This plane is not turning around.

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skylight

None of this is meant in a battle-cry sort of way, but then, maybe it is. Because all of this, frankly, hurts, and on several levels. Personally, I am so sick of false lines being drawn that pit people against one another, and for people controlled by their fear and their pasts getting to make the rules, letting people stay stuck in cycles from which they may never emerge. It’s ridiculous: don’t we all want the same things, deep down? To be safe, known, loved?

Someone like Rachel Held Evans was in a powerful place: she knew how to cross those lines. We have so few people in that place: people willing to be unafraid, and who are unshaken by the fact that things are not as they should be.

That willingness is the only coping mechanism that counts, in the end.

Because there are so many coping tools we lovely anxious humans cling to, and if you’re only getting anxious now, these may be quite new to you. We get irritable, combative. Or addicted—to people, to substances. Or we freeze up, check out, dissociate. I suspect that last one has become incredibly garden-variety. Complacency—it’s a straightforward choice. Scrolling can be the sweetest thing.

Of course, when life keeps being scary and unpredictable, some of us get less complacent. That righteous anger bubbles up. Words are volleyed. Action is taken. Whew, that was a doozy. Now that’s over.

No. It’s not. This just keeps happening.

And so with these last several doozies, well, what do we do?

What, I’d ask instead, do we not do?

If life itself has truly become this ill-suited to everyone then a holistic overhaul is clearly due. Environmental reform. Maybe the kind that starts from within and works its way out on several levels.

I have no idea how to make that happen. That’s the goddamn million-dollar question, isn’t it? But this cycle is the unfortunate equivalent of trying many different kinds of band-aids (like an abortion ban! like a march in DC!) when the bleeding is internal.

And maybe it’s also to say, I’m aggrieved and exhausted of this national dysregulation—this existential crisis—and if you’re reading this, perhaps you are, too. Maybe all of these attempts at ideology are just twisting us more thoroughly into something not-us. And maybe we all need to take a breather from the way things should have been and used to be.

Maybe that’s the only road toward something better. Toward being all of who and what we can possibly be.

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Peace be with you

Peace be with you on a day when politics is the watchword. But even so, it is not necessarily a bad word. It’s on all of our minds; why is it on all of our minds? Perhaps because politics is about power. But more than that, and fortunately for us – and our well-being, and our sanity – it is about people.

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A wise woman recently reminded me how much a President of the United States cannot do. True: the people’s ability to elect a leader is important and revolutionary. Also true: an election in itself is no small thing to be dismissed. Truer still: the President does carry weight and possess power (that is, influence).

However, we live in a country that was founded upon certain principles, one being that absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely, no matter who holds it – people or President. Furthermore, we live in a time wherein a powerful work of art heralding this painstakingly constructed framework is popular and celebrated. (Yes, of course I mean Hamilton.) That is a reminder we are lucky to have.

What is interesting about Americans, then, is our proclivity for choice. Yet, interestingly enough, this seems to be on the backburner in this present climate. Nevertheless, in spite of environmental influences, in spite of the people around us, and in spite of whatever toxicity breeds on the Internet, we do have in our possession the ability to choose.

And in spite of what many would say, believe, or do, that ability does not end after a so-called historic election.

What if every election is historic? What then? Then, the effects would only be meaningful to the extent that we allowed.

By this, I mean a few things. First: none of us has to play the victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy. We all see negative patterns, and we predict their sore outcomes. But the pattern I see is that, when we predict these outcomes, they are shudderingly likely to occur.

Second: the opposite is true as well. If there is an ill that is eating at you, and that should be remedied – if the reality of hateful words and energy bothers you – if you are unhappy with, perhaps, certain systems –

– well. You are not alone. I’m there with you. I feel angry, anxious, entirely powerless.

But we are not alone. And in that unity, that powerlessness, bit by bit, will start to dissipate.

I say this in defiance of our concocted ideas about what power is or looks like. There is a different kind. It is a power that does not come from force, or volume, or occupying a seat in the tallest tower (literally or metaphorically). It does not come from having the time or energy to post grievances on Facebook.

No: the most effectual power comes from discernment, and wisdom. This power comes from giving up your ego in favor of your fellow man. We’ve seen it in the actions of those who change the way we think, see one other, and act. We know there is a different kind of influence; we’ve seen it exude from people – Mother Teresa; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Nelson Mandela – who have chosen to see and stand for the good within each of us.

Power, in short, comes from that which conquers fear: love.

None of us knows exactly what the future holds. But it is better that way. There is so much beyond each of our individual control, but those circumstances should have no bearing on whether we choose to act – whether we choose to change ourselves, in big movements and small words – to bring people to peace and to better the world around us.

I have no illusions that utopia is near. Nor do I have illusions that it would even look the same for everyone. Indeed: I hope it would not, as balance is beautiful.

But what I also hope for is a trend towards trying to understand each person who walks beside us in our lives, no matter who he voted for, no matter where she was born. We really do have the choice to listen and love. When we believe we don’t, that’s when fear comes out to play.

But when we know deep down how thoroughly we do, there is a flicker of light in the soul, an electric recognition of ourselves in others’ eyes, a hope that positive change is possible.

I have hope. I have hope that it can begin as soon as today.

Post edited slightly on November 18, 2016.