Anxiety, Trying, and Other Alarms We Might Learn to Heed

What if we saw anxiety not as a condition, but as a useful alarm? First, we would invest less energy in striving to quash it. We would heed its warnings, but then, equally importantly, we would turn it off.

Why is this such a hard thing to imagine? When an alarm goes off, it is warning us of danger. The first thing we do is turn it off, so we can proceed to handle the emergency. It would seem strange indeed to leave it blaring, spend energy and time trying to ignore it, until it drives us out of our minds. Yet this is what we routinely do with anxiety.

Why? I would think it comes back to Ego. Ego strives to dominate us. To do this it must cripple our ability to get on without it. It does so by keeping us off-balance.

Here’s a thought. Qi Gong is based on the principle that we stand here and can move within the sphere of space we can reach with our limbs. Every other more complex physical activity begins with these capabilities, of standing and reaching. Now the fundamental capability behind this function is to be able to maintain balance. To be planted on our feet and keep our weight over them as we move. Our movement, our resistance to disequilibrium, begins with our toes and the plantar of our feet, in a way comparable to how we manipulate objects using our palms and fingers.

It’s curious that a culture that has had this as a foundational practice dating back who knows how far should have developed a custom of binding the feet of its women. What better way for a Patriarchy to dominate its female population!

Now, they could have bound their hands, but that would have made it impossible for them to do work. No Patriarchy wants to do without the labor of its women! Instead, by binding their feet, they strike them at the foundation of their personal strength, the ability to stand and to balance themselves, to maintain equilibrium on their own.

This goes to show how fundamental this question of balance is and how it is a powerful means of attack used to find ways to destroy an organism’s equilibrium.

Anxiety maintained at a chronic level of intensity is the equivalent of binding our feet.

Trying. Having spent most of my life struggling with this condition I have a visceral understanding of how it works.

To understand trying, it’s important to have experiences of doing. We all have had experiences of events during which we’ve simply gone into action and accomplished something we would never have thought possible. There was no distinction between establishing an intention and achieving what may have been a complex series of actions each contingent on what came before and all taking place at a speed that precluded the possibility to ponder or consider what to do next. These, in my experience, have been emergencies that caught me simultaneously off-guard, but at the same time calm and within a sphere of almost preternatural clarity.

These experiences left me with an enormous sense of gratitude, without any Ego-pandering sense of my own accomplishment. On the contrary, I felt more witness to rather than actor in what had occurred. I’ve also been fortunate to find a strikingly similar circumstance while composing a poem, painting, or writing fiction. A sense of action without intention, without a super-imposed willful attempt to control the outcome, followed by an achievement that both feels beyond what I could have done and at the same time as a Gift I’ve received not a conquest I’ve won.

Let’s contrast this with the emotional landscape surrounding trying. When I tried, I would feel an inescapable sense that I was being pushed into something that I didn’t know why, but I was not wholeheartedly behind doing. There was always, is always whenever I succumb to trying, this sense of dragging a weight, of being drawn into what seemed wrong. There was also a focus not on the task, but on how much the effort was “costing” me. The whole experience tangled up in Ego-concerns, like unfairness, or cynicism, or else a rush of manic energy that “swept me off my feet” with an intoxication over all “I” was doing.

The significant difference I take from my experiences of trying, and from there extending to the whole mechanism of striving; from forging an intent, planning a series of actions, and then becoming immersed in the emotional stew this required to either accomplish or to fail; has been to see that these were instances when an internalized dominating voice was coercing me into action and attempting to control the result.

I would characterize my instinctive reaction to that as starting out with an anxiety triggered by the futility of the path I saw ahead and then, as a result of not heeding that warning directly but forging ahead, a whole panoply of reactive emotional states arising from the effects of coercion on my organism.

This, and not any theoretical constructs on why it would be so much cooler to be a Zen Master and not be caught up in striving, has always been behind my efforts to figure out how to untangle this mess. It’s a question of learning to heed warnings and then turning off the alarms. It has nothing to do with preparing for Utopia, or being “better” in the future, it is all about recognizing and focusing attention in ways that promote my own sense of internal authority as residing in trusting what my organism is telling me and letting it have access to what it can reach, which my conscious “self” can only partake of as a Gift, not an accomplishment.

If I have any hopes for this process they would be that by doing this I will be more present in my life, not more powerful. And that it will wean me from the habits I’ve been conditioned to carry out that lead me to subvert that trust and seek out external power in its stead.

None of this will save the world. It won’t save me either! It does show me that neither needs saving. What they need is to be trusted to Be.

Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

3 thoughts on “Anxiety, Trying, and Other Alarms We Might Learn to Heed

  1. Sounds like something I would have written :-) Cheers Tony — great to share the journey of self-awareness and figure out together who we’re meant to be.


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