Taking care of our anxieties

The mass of men lead lives of quite desperation

This sentence is by Henry David Thoreau. And maybe he’s right. We reject the call of our ambition because we fear great dangers.

And indeed, as soon as we go out on a limb, take our development invitations seriously, and embark on the path of the courageous unfolding of our potential, impressive fears arise.

At the top of the winner’s podium of fears we find the fear of social exclusion

Nothing scares us as much as the possible exclusion from the social community and the feared total loneliness that results from it. Together with the fear that we will treat afterward, we have immortalized this fear in the inner image of the poor chap, who lives under the bridge and has taken leave of his senses.

Our fear of loneliness may be related to our longing for existential security and experiences of happiness in interpersonal encounters mostly. And this is also totally understandable on a superficial level: Man is by nature a social being.

But unfortunately, in the reflexive pursuit of connectedness through social belonging, we often fall into the trap of excessive conformity. Almost as often we skate on the existential thin ice of self-betrayal. All too often we trade group affiliation for connection with our hearts and loyalty to our ambition. And that must backfire.

Once we have ventured onto the ice of self-betrayal and cut the connection with our hearts and our ambitions, we are existentially lost.

And that’s why we feel powerless and wrong. The former we recognize in the fact that we can hardly get up from the sofa and gain weight constantly. And productivity is something we read about on the Internet. The latter is something we recognize whenever passing a police patrol, a customs officer, or any other supposed representative of authority. Because those encounters involuntarily put us in a state of alarm.

For better or for worse, we surrender ourselves to a supposedly safe and cultured community. But all too often this “fine” society is an uncultured mob that lives behind a conformally polished façade. Venture at 140 km/h onto the left lane of the Autobahn five between Freiburg and Karlsruhe in Germany and you will find out what I’m talking about very fast. Because at best, the bodies of the cars are cultivated.

The feelings of total safety of the low-flying attackers are fed by different things.

On one hand, there are delicious suspension systems. The acoustics are characterized by an ingenious mixture. A pleasantly tuned engine and running noise on the inside and outside merges with a fat sound that stems from the well-calibrated media system. And the virtual construct of safety in the event of an accident is made up of memes such as ABS, airbags and private health insurance. Despite everything, the feeling of security is deceptive. Which is why we regularly form rescue lanes and I am glad that my customers can now consume content asynchronously via the Internet.

Fear reigns in the supposedly comforting nest of the community

As soon as the connection to the social haven we invested in so much is endangered, we panic. It does not matter whether our belonging is actually in danger or springs from our fundamental fear of life.

With the loss of affiliation, we run the risk of losing the only form of connectedness we know. And this prospect is unbearable.

That is why we are obliged to constantly observe, evaluate and control ourselves through the eyes of others. The supreme leitmotif of our actions, on which we rely, is to either stand out in a positive way or preferably not at all.

And what could be more effective to stop us from doing our thing, and perhaps, God forbid, from being super-successful with it?

As Truman Capote so nicely put it, “Success is pretty much the last thing you’re forgiven.”

The second place on the winner’s podium goes to our fear of economic ruin

Financial success provides us with a certain freedom of behavior in our social interactions. If we are really successful, then we can even participate in setting the rules of the game. And then we can suddenly put our ideas of an ideal life into practice relatively risk-free.

But if we draw the freedom to shape our life from an aura of the successful, then things can become awkward fast. We may seem like the free creators of our reality. In fact, we are prisoners of those hero and savior roles that we have already come to know.

It’s extremely difficult to really feel alive in these roles. And it is almost impossible to cultivate a real connection with life by playing those roles rather than being ourselves.

Here, too, we become prisoners in our social haven. The only difference is that we take on a different role. We are heroes in the man of action, savior, and often also perpetrator robe.

At the same time, paradoxically, we become a victim of our economic status. But it’s not as paradoxical as we’ve learned. Does drama triangle ring a bell?

If our material resources become exhausted, then we are threatened by a double loss. First, we lose access to creative freedom in the safe field of our social connections. And then, with increasing frustration about the lost possibilities and the increasing neglect of our communication culture, we lose the social haven itself.

But these are considerations at a high level

We, common people, are interested in a financial cushion for two reasons. We want to secure our existence. And we want to gain access to consumer options.

We are massively dependent on an excessive security standard that we Germans pursue, mostly through savings and insurance. Because we have never heard of unconditional existential snugness. And even if we have heard thereof, we have no idea how to find and cultivate it.

We depend on access to consumption options that simultaneously support slavery in other countries and ruin Mother Earth because we don’t know how vitality and happiness really work. Because then we need the kick of consumption to compensate for our lack of liveliness and our misfortune. And this is a crutch that doesn’t work because we don’t want to limp, we want to dance. Which is also the reason for our greed.

Illness, death, and total disintegration are fears that tend to rank in the background

Illness and death have always affected others. The elderly, the neighbors, the acquaintances of acquaintances. With the corona crisis, illness and death became socially acceptable again. Many didn’t seem to realize that their lives were finite until the pandemic started.

What’s interesting for our context: the most threatening fears have a far less direct effect on the neglection of our ambition than the ones mentioned above. In fact, death and the deep existential questions that come with it can be massive catalysts for our self-determination, our self-liberation, and our access to vitality. Many autobiographical accounts of people who have survived life-threatening illnesses or extreme experiences bear witness to this.

The problem: We are completely stunned by these fundamental phenomena of our existence. And as long as we have the opportunity, we launch a standard strategy: we bust our head in the sand. And because we aren’t giant birds that can’t fly, we do it our own way. We escape into activism.

The stupid thing though: If we run away from the essential questions and flee into the madness of our modern everyday life, then we are blocking our access to the essential answers. Because if we choose flight as an option, then we also choose to flee from ourselves. And with that, we lose the connection with our hearts and our ambition.

However, we only find the essential answers to the great existential questions in the connection with our hearts. We find them in intimate contact with all aspects of this present moment. And we find those answers in the flow of courageous action, that allows us to forget ourselves while being completely awake and alive.

The question arises as to how we can soothe our fears

The essential remedies that help against our anxiety are curiosity and the joy of discovery.

The essential remedy that helps us to find peace and serenity is a connection with the present phenomena of our reality.

The essential answer we can give to the question of life and death is to make the most of this present moment. And the best way to do this is to immerse ourselves in the current activity and unfold our potential in the process.

Mark Twain has said something cheerfully comforting about fears: “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”