Calling Off the Fight: Anxiety Redux

Anxiety Face
Anxiety Face

A boxing match is about to start. As I step into the ring with my biggest fear, I size it up and see that it is nebulous, which will make it a tricky opponent. Its form is not well-defined. It looks impenetrable yet ready to engulf me at the same time. I step back and study this thing, and I realize that its nature is to shape-shift into a dark cloud over any circumstance. Its strategy is to cast shadows and hide the light, distorting things. As I consider my plan for doing battle with this being, I decide I will give it a name to disarm the ambiguity it wields as a weapon.

My biggest fear goes by Dali (Disaster And Loss Imminent). He sits at the periphery of my mind, trying to poke holes in my happiness. He has a knack for creating a pall over a perfectly good situation, although I hardly ever pay attention to him. But, there are moments when he morphs himself into a thought or feeling that grips me and throws me down on the ground in a panic. In these times I feel terrified that I am on the verge of losing everything that is good in my life. I can see myself alone, living in abject poverty with a crippling broken heart that will eat me alive. When these moments descend on me, I let Dali have his way with me for a little while; I whimper and whine and curl up in a ball. Then, I dust off the essence of me, which is rational and optimistic, and I put up my dukes.

Standing toe to toe with this mean-spirited joy thief, I come to understand that I am well-equipped to handle him. It turns out that defeating him is not really my aim. What I need to continue to do is to acknowledge his existence, and maintain the same approach to life that has gotten me where I am now. I am exceedingly grateful to be leading such a charmed and luxurious life, and I give due credit to dumb luck for its part in sparing me any real suffering thus far in life. Alongside that luck, though, I see in myself a particular combination of ingenuity, endurance, creativity, and courage that have served me well in constructing a life that I love. I believe that if old Dali were ever to coalesce into some concrete shit-hitting-the-fan threats to my well-being, I have the balls and strength to handle it.

I contemplate the most nightmarish scenario I can conjure (the death of one of my children), and I know that if something that painful ever happened, it would not destroy me. It would wound me profoundly, and I would stand at the edge of complete disintegration. I would flail and rail and suffer. But I would survive and learn to flourish again with those wounds. Looking at Dali across the ring with this knowledge in mind, I realize that we have made a mistake in choosing a fight scenario to work out our differences. We are not adversaries. He is part of me, and I need him. He fosters gratitude in me for the amazingly wonderful life I am living. He keeps me constructively humble. He is fundamental in helping me act in line with my values. Without him I would have a blind spot and I would be incomplete.

The fight paradigm supposes that fears are best handled by defeating them. There is a school of thought that says we should banish them from our consciousness, because to engage them is to perpetuate negativity. I don’t buy this. There can be a healthy balance between denying the reality that these fears exist and dwelling on them. I believe they are best handled with self-inquiry, patience, and acceptance. I have decided to call off the fight. Dali is part of who I am, and I appreciate his contributions to my wholeness.

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