THE CROW’S MESSAGE: Are We Afraid or Anxious?

If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life—and only then will I be free to become myself.” Martin Heidegger

In my last blog post I talked about the differences between depression and despair. For me to really work my own despair or really listen to anyone’s, I have to be connected to the anxiety that I have numbed with alcohol, work addiction, love addiction, and thus, avoided, suppressed and discounted, and most of all, confused with fear all the while being diagnosed and treated for depression.  Freud tells us that anxiety “is a riddle whose solution would be bound to throw a floodlight on our whole mental existence.”

Anxiety, unlike fear, has no external source, cause, or cure, unlike it’s near relative fear. Fear has an object. If I’m afraid of flying, which I used to be, talk therapy and immersion therapy and then getting in a plane can make the fear disappear. If I’m afraid of the dark, then I just keep the lights on. If I’m afraid of lions, then I don’t go to the jungle or the park; but the anxiety that comes from being on the planet and confronting my mortality is amorphous, ephemeral, but just as damn real as any lion. Kierkegaard says, “Whereas fear sharpens the senses, unrecognized anxiety dulls the spirit” as well as the soul and creativity, not to mention any connection to something divine if that is what one is searching for. Once fear is identified I can fly, fight or freeze. Anxiety is a disorder of desire for something that we can’t put a name to and can’t see, taste, hear or smell but everyone knows it is there if we just get quiet enough. The dictionary says, “Fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.” The dictionary goes on to say anxiety “is a feeling of worry, nervousness, a dis-ease about an uncertain outcome.”

The philosopher Karl Jaspers speaks of anxiety this way, “a feeling of restlessness… a feeling that one… has not finished something… or that one has to look for something.” After my divorce I went to my quiet, windy mountain cottage to look at my anxiety right in the eye because I have been anxious my whole life. The Catholic monk and mystic Thomas Merton wants us to know, “anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity.”

One of the deepest forms of anxiety is “disintegration anxiety.”  This is the anxiety that something or someone might destroy our inner-most self, and to put it simply, we don’t know what is going to happen to us in the future except death for certain and then what?

When the preacher that baptized me over on Sand Mountain when I was nine years old and laid his bony hand on my shoulder and pronounced that I’d be a preacher, I started asking myself, my mom, my god, preachers and priests what to do and not do. However, Merton goes on to say anxiety comes from “being afraid to ask the right questions because they might turn out to have no answer.”

So, am I finally, at the tender age of 68, poised to start asking the right questions? Am I ready to follow the Christian theologian Paul Tillich’s advice who says one of the cures for my despair and anxiety is to “believe you are accepted” and to accept myself questions, despair, bone loneliness and all in the words of the old spiritual, “Just as I am without one plea…”

The post-modern novelist, Walk Percy, says “Anxiety summons us to an authentic experience,” and if I strip down to all that I have learned, felt, seen and heard, then one way to move out of despair and anxiety is to strip away as many false selves that have been created over the decades in my on-going search for happiness.

Are you afraid or anxious? Even though these words are used interchangeably by very intelligent people.  I hope after reading this short blog that it may help you sort it out as I continue to do so.

Anxiety is altogether different from fear and similar concepts…” Kierkegaard

The Flying Boy Letters: Responses and Replies 30 Years Later

This an excerpt from my forthcoming book written with Kat Hrdina.

…I think that an addiction to a person is much worse than an addiction to a drug. My relationship with this man was like a roller coaster ride all the time. We would get close emotionally, so I thought, only to be dumped then taken back over and over again. My self-esteem would hit rock bottom every time… I know you mentioned in your book about letting go, how did you get Lucy [Flying Boy II] and Laurel [The Flying Boy] out of your head, as well as out of your heart? How do you really let go?

Dear Ms. Roller Coaster Rider:

You’re absolutely right! Addiction to a person is much harder for some people to deal with than drugs or alcohol. I know it was for me. We NEED people, love, affection, tenderness, and someone to talk to. We don’t NEED drugs or alcohol, but we want and crave them to numb the pain of having needed people in our past like mothers, fathers, mentors, and teachers to show us how to do things like face our fears of intimacy with people we love who don’t turn away from us.

So what do we do if we are in love with the backs of people who keep walking away from us but then make an emotional and physical U-Turn and come back for a little while?

Bustle Image: Pixabay; WiffleGif

I used to be in love with love and with those beautiful backs. I wanted them back, pursued them to come back, or I’d push them away when intimacy became more than I could handle at the time. Sometimes though – I hate to say it – I would push them away, like I did Laurel in The Flying Boy, just to see if I could manipulate them into coming back for another round of our emotional come-here-go away dance.

Occasionally, I was the back that a few women watched walking out the relationship door (including Laurel). I was always hoping, as I headed for the hills, that they would come after me and ask me to come back.

One woman, my former wife, was the only one that came after me after I pushed her away, and I’m so thankful she did. We had about seventeen years of togetherness – not perfect – but we at least met each other face to face, and I felt really loved and wanted.

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Now if you asked me thirty years ago, how did I let go of Laurel – the woman who changed my life and who I wrote about in The Flying Boy, and how did I let go of Lucy, the woman in my book, I Don’t Want to Be Alone (later there was a title change to Flying Boy Book II: The Journey Continues), I’ll tell you the truth – now thirty years later – in a way I wouldn’t have at the time you wrote your beautiful letter.

I did a radio interview years ago and the host said, “How would you describe the central message of your books and lectures?”

Without a moment’s hesitation I answered, “I can sum it up in two words – Let Go.”

He quickly responded, “Let go of what?”

To which I replied:

Everything and everyone that you need more than love. Let go of everything we were taught that wasn’t right or true, and that’s a whole lot. We let go, as adults, of mothers and fathers so we can see and interact with them as flawed people just like we are. We let go of the last stage of life so we can enter the next stage, and the let that one go, and on and on. We let go of searching for happiness outside ourselves, and instead, search for meaning inside ourselves, knowing that it too will have to be let go the more we grow and heal. We let go of all our false selves. All our masks are thrown into the garbage along with all our vanities and needs to be right, important, and famous. We let go of our greed for more and more stuff like houses, cars, and illusions of grandeur, because they are all going to turn to “dust in the wind,” as one of my favorite rock groups, Kansas, said dozens of years ago.

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You see the more we let go, the more we can enjoy everything we have to a fuller and greater degree. I have several great friends, and I try to let them go every day so I can be with them cleaned out and present with them in ways I can’t if my goal is to hold on to them. Letting go leads us into a more eternal now than holding on does because holding on constantly forces us to stay in the future or in the past.

Now, going back to your question, which is substantially harder, “How do we let go?” Well the truth is, I don’t know how either, even though I’ve been working on it for thirty-something years since you first wrote. I think of Laurel every day for a few moments, and Lucy and I are friends who still talk to each other and hang out twenty-eight years later.

I still talk about, and teach people, how to let go of the pain they hold in their bodies from the grief and anger they have swallowed, stuffed and bottled up – sometimes for decades. Yes, I teach about Romance, Love, and relationship addiction – because we only teach what we need to learn. So honestly, letting go is not my strong suit, but I’ve gotten better over the years, and I bet you have to by now.

So, I will let you go and send blessings on you for writing.

John