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.