How To Beat Anxiety

How To Beat Anxiety

The only thing I can control is how hard I work at something I believe is good.

After law school a lawyer I know told me studying was a great stress reliever.  I’m sorry, what?  I was prepping for the California bar exam.  Wouldn’t half a day of Seinfeld reruns be a better stress reliever?  Shouldn’t I give myself a break, forget about the exam for a while, and get back to it rested and ready to go again?  No.  It doesn’t work that way.  Avoiding the dragon does not make it go away.  It makes it grow bigger.

Not committing to take the bar exam is not the same as committing and, then, pretending the exam doesn’t exist, even for just an afternoon.  They look similar, especially in the moment.  But they are two very different things.  I blur this line all  the time. I’d made the leap and studying made it less likely I’d fail.

The potential for physical or spiritual destruction is at the root of evil in our lives.  Sometimes we put boulders in our path just to feel the manufactured bliss of overcoming them.  Whether self-imposed or unavoidable, how I handle the possibility of destruction is what decides whether or not evil will manifest.  There is nothing special about 2018.   In a few months it will join 2,017 other years of recorded history as being decidedly in the past.  The following passage, only a few decades old, will always be apt:

“It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there rotting on prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts.”

—Aleksander Solzhenitsyn (The Gulag Archipelago)

Pretending bad things aren’t real is the number one way to succumb to fear.  It’s a cruel trick of nature.  Salvation is just beyond the ugliness we must face, even if it kills us.  Well, then.  Ugliness is melted by the light of your own gaze.  If its root cause proves unnecessary then don’t repeat it.  But don’t avoid the dragon after it’s already here.  That’s capitulation.

Now, though, a bit on confrontation itself.  It is a funny thing.  Some claim to thrive it.  I don’t believe it.  It’s true some confrontation is unavoidable but most is unnecessary.  We live lives of finiteness.  We can’t have it all.  Can you be at the beach and in the interior of Alaska at the same time?  No.  If you “thrive” on confrontation you’ll become hard, bitter and cruel on the inside; paranoid and fearful.  If I “thrive” on confrontation and then flip you off in traffic, or have a melt down every six months with someone I care about, I’m not thriving I’m triaging my life.    That’s letting some things die so that others may hobble on.

Can people be happy all the time?  I guess we can’t.  Physical pain happens.  Emotional pain happens. I can’t control that.  Indeed, another source of pain, altogether, is trying to control all outcomes.  We live this life without any assurances at all.  But what are the alternatives?  Does life feel like a blessing all the time?  We are summoned here.  It happens slowly.  But here you are.  You weren’t even brought here by your parents.  Not really.  Because, you didn’t exist when they “decided” to have you.  But you get to decide how you’ll spend your time.

So, What, Then, To Do?

Work on something good because we can’t control what will happen to us physically or emotionally.  Someone gave me a great idea. Do the thing you did all the time between the ages of 8 and 12, when no one was paying you but you did it anyway.  I understand your material needs were cared for but you get the idea.  My bliss was my imagination and fascination with heroes and dramatic figures.  (Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Daniel Boone, Magua from The Last of the Mohicans, Blue Jacket, Civil War soldiers, Revolutionary War soldiers, Martin Luther King Junior, Moby Dick, Captain Ahab, Ishmael, the list goes on, Bo Jackson, Jerry Rice, Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig).

I read books, learned to play music, learned to hunt, garden, raise animals, and basically strive to live like Daniel Boone so I could, more accurately, pretend to be a character in a story I’d invented for myself.  Then football came along and I fell in love with that because it was real, not pretend, drama.  It was something I could act out while idolizing real life versions of that story.  Then, I lost that and I forgot all the things I knew, without a doubt, as a kid.  Now, I wish I could tell those stories with words, the way I used to with imagination and hobbies.

Take It Easy

Why?  Because that is what the ones having all the fun and success are doing.  It’s the ones trying to copy them who are miserable.  I know.  I tried.  The odds that the thing that makes them skip to work every day (Warren Buffet’s famous claim about what he does for a living) would do the same for you are very bad.  Don’t go that way.  Go your own way.

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”

—Joseph Campbell

Your bliss is built on a philosophy of one.  You.  What else are you going to do today that matters more than that?  Who knows, maybe your bliss is working a nine to five job to give your kids a great start in life.  Maybe it’s a sense of duty you’ve found in serving your country.  Who knows?  Only you do.

The only thing I can control is how hard I work at something I believe is good.

 

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21st Century Man

21th Century Man

The truck broke down and the desert stretched for miles in all directions, as far as they could see.  The two men doubted they’d be rescued after their water ran out and had decided to try and walk out the way they’d driven in.  But they hadn’t driven in straight, or anything close to it.  Survival was possible if they could reach a 7-11 at the crossroads.  Civilization, lost at the point of the broken down truck, was now at the the corner of a highway and the dirt road which had taken them into the bush.  As the crow flies it was possible.  They debated eyeballing this route, short as it was and possible to reach in time.  But the tire tracts were a dead certainty and so they’d chosen what sounded like a sure bet.  But halfway along the tracks a wind picked up.

Great thirst cannot be imagined and can only be felt and when it is nothing compares.  Anything short of the 7-11 and they were dead.  They walked along their fading tire tracks.  The wind was covering them.  Each man saw this but neither dared comment on it.  All they carried between them was a fifth of whiskey they’d saved for the ride back.  It was a $40.00 bottle of good whiskey which the shorter man had pointed out as a joke when they were preparing to hike out.  He’d laughed and tucked the whiskey into his belt and was now carrying it.  He didn’t know what desert survival protocol called for regarding an empty water jug and a bottle of booze.  He knew booze dried you out and he knew their position was a bad one, though this was slow in catching up to him consciously.  Protocol be damned.  Maybe there was a protocol regarding your last act of existence.  The taller one, by half a foot, had asked for the $40.00 bottle an hour or so into the walk and took a heroic pull of the savory smooth stuff and began talking thus:

“A great, big, award-winning, famous and stupendous writer once said compare yourself to no one other than who you were yesterday.”

“So simple, it’s obvious,” the shorter man said.  His easy participation along this line of conversation unexpectedly terrified the taller one.  He’d expected a rebuke to his out of place remark.  That hadn’t happened.  They were both gone.

“Yesterday I was a man waiting for nothing.  You can spend your whole life waiting for nothing.  Now I’m wasting and drunk under this big ‘ole sky.  And it’s not obvious, it becomes obvious when you hear it,” said the tall one.

“Churchill?”

“What about Churchill?”

“The writer was Churchill.”

“Oh.  No, reach higher, pupil.”

“Lincoln,” the short one tried again.

“Lower, but you’re hot.”

“T.R.”

“Speak softly and carry a big stick.  No, higher.”

“Grant?”

“U.S. Grant?”

“Is there another?”

“Writer, not butcher.”

“Oh boy, the brainwashing of our youth.  There were none higher.  Read his memoir.  Hand me that.”

“Hemingway,” the tall one said handing over the $40.00 bottle.

“Lincoln with booze added.”

“Now you’re talking.  Circle back with that.”

“Seems reasonable, the Hemingway thing.”

“And truer.”

“Why truer?”

“Suffering, mostly.”

“I read his little book with the bulls,” the shorter one said.

“Read Islands in The Stream.  There was the war he fought in and the one he wrote in.  That’s the one he wrote in.”

“I’ll get right on that.”

“But I like where your head is.  Uncle Abe and Ulysses.  Master and commander.”

“Lincoln was no trigger puller.  He preferred a gentleman’s quarry,” said the short one.

“He didn’t need it, he got it all by himself.  The stuff you need to write.  He wrote through his ordeal.  He didn’t wait.  It served his purpose.”

“Hemingway went looking for his trouble,” the short one said.

“Who comes by it honestly, anyway?  Are we out here for our health?”

“Grant and those guys.”

“The little man from Galena Illinois.  He’s on the $50, or is it the $20?” said the tall one.

“He was fond of the bottle.  I know that.  And fought like a pit.”

“’Ol Hem would have disapproved of his imbibing intolerance.  But he would have done so with great pity.  A perfect drunk or Hemingway, the dashing drinker of fortune.  You either hold your stuff and write about it or send thousands into the fire, drunk the while.”

“Churchill drank happily and often, but well.  Lincoln didn’t touch it and no one knows why.  T.R. hid his and was probably an addict if he didn’t control it tight around the waist like everything else.  Grant couldn’t hold his shit.  He was pathetic after two.”

“You prove my point.  Hemingway was the mensch.”

“You seem so sure.”

“It comes through the work.”

“For Grant too.”

“The writing or the slaughter?” Asked the taller one.

“Both.”

“Hemingway.  Heir to Grant?”

“Heir apparent.  A book idea.  Cheers.”

“Neither man had God.”

“They had philosophy.  That philosophy was duty, first to work and then to an ideal of honor.  Hemingway would have been on Grant’s staff had they coexisted.  They’d have found each other.”

“Can you live with yourself? was his credo.  That’s two people,” said the tall one.

“I do it all the time.  But they quarrel something fierce.”

“Grant the butcher.  A hundred thousand under his watch and I have to drink to watch just one go,” said the tall one.

“Nineteenth century man had a good God under him.”

“Hemingway.  20th century man.  Doubt loosed on a generation lost.”

“He faced his Evil,” said the short one.

“You think him evil?”

“Evil is in the ether and it rises and falls in the human heart.  I can’t fault him for holding up a mirror,” said the short one.

“There’s your legacy, poet.  Scratch it down on this rock and pass the hat.”

Scratching, the short one looked up.  “A man could cut a deal with a 7-11 owner and put an RV right next-door and live in it till 80.  You could write your novel in that RV.  You’d need a desk and a chair and an account with the manager inside for water, sewage and the hotdog counter.”

“Regrets?”

“It sure is easy to let it all down, right now, and think so.  Send it over.”

“You are like a frightened child who would hide in a closet to escape a fire.”

“That’s the mirror talking.”

“Beware a philosophy of annihilation.”

“What made the mensch so great, anyway?  The final analysis.”

“He wrote himself a line just before the end. ‘There aren’t any answers,’ it said.  ‘You should know that by now.  There aren’t any answers at all.’  Then he put his toe on the trigger.”

“Courage.  What else?”

“Nothing.”

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