I am told by reputable sources that anxiety is an affliction that is not only widespread, but is also one that is particularly well suited to the present age. But who can really understand our own time? I have long since given up trying to understand or label this age in the way that other periods of history are now recognized, whether they be the dark ages or post-modernity. My fear is that our current situation is little more than a supreme nothingness– an all-encompassing madness that is laced with the vain hope that technological progression is leading us somewhere good. What does seem clear to me, however, is the reality that anxiety is the natural by product of an age that has lost its meta-narrative, and of a people who have forgotten what it means to be truly human.
Those of us with an existential bent inevitably fare worse in the sufferance of this most debilitating of conditions. It is on more than one occasion that I have listened to the proclamations of the idiot par excellence with something bordering on genuine envy. Blessed is the person free from questions of meaning and who is unburdened from the journey of self understanding, for theirs is the life that can be lived to the full. After all, have we not been taught that the the person who asks questions of purpose and meaning is deluded, perhaps haunted by the spiritual fallacies we like to think we have left in the past? Have we not been told that a person seeking clarification on the philosophical reasoning behind a course of action is doing little more than wasting everyone’s time? Don’t think, just consume. It’s a mantra for the age. We reward those who operate within the system. To question or lack faith in the system is by default to be anxious. And although I have never fully understood Kierkegaard, I think he might have been saying something along similar lines for the context of his own time.
I am told too (by some of the most beautiful and intelligent people around me) that anxiety is merely a state of mind, a learned behavior or a genuine health condition that can be cured or managed. And although this condition is called anxiety by health professionals, for me it feels more like taking a walk down the street and everyone you pass is heading in the opposite direction. It’s that feeling of loneliness when the very way you think is met with confusion or derision. It’s easy to feel like you are going a bit mad. This might well be true, and maybe anxiety is indeed a luxury, or a perverse expression of narcissism. Maybe, but I think not.
In this kind of experiential loneliness feelings of panic, fear and frustration cannot be reduced to the condition of ‘anxiety’ as it might be defined by the psychology industry. This is not something that can be meditated or prescribed away. Rather, these feelings are due to a fundamentally different way of being in the world. If I can evoke some religious language , the experience of the Prophet seems to go part of the way in describing what is often mistaken for anxiety. There is a kind of spiritual homelessness lying at the heart of the way the Prophet understands the world, and as such he or she will never really be at home anywhere even though they might be married, own a house and have a steady job. The Prophet understands that way things are is not the way things should be, and that the inner restlessness and isolation they experience will never be fully resolved because their lot in life is to see things others cannot.
Anxiety is the natural human response to a world that is governed by forces that we ourselves have unleashed but can no longer control. There is no real cure and nor should there be. If we were to magically eliminate anxiety from the sphere of human experience (as many seem to want to do) we will have granted the system complete and utter control over our lives. For the anxious mind is a questioning mind, and the system does not like questions. Instead of cursing the uncomfortable feelings of anxiousness, we should listen to what the anxiety is trying to tell us about how we can reclaim our humaneness and live our days with as much individual liberty and compassion for others as we possibly can.