Unless you are an anthropoid or alien, sometime in the last 24 hours you had a moment of doubt, worry or alarm.
It might have been fear of losing your job. Or possibly you distrusted a friend or partner’s feelings for you. Maybe you worried that fire or storms would destroy your home. Or had a nagging feeling that getting older might actually kill you. Why, with Halloween almost upon us, you might even have a fear of All Hallow’s Eve itself. (This is termed Samhainophobia, and originates from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to usher in the darker time of year — and ward off ghosts.)
Whatever your trepidation, how do you get rid of gnawing anxiety, creepy shivers, or full blown panic?
Start by thinking of one scary thing that’s on your mind right now. Something you tend to avoid, but that sparks fear in you. Whatever your boogeyman is, say the word out loud. Be it “sharks” or “elevators” or “corporate administrators” or “trapped on a Boeing 737 Max.” Giving voice to your fear can make you realize that what spooks you is mostly living in a dark corner of your mind, and is not an imminent threat. If sharks scare you and you live in Kansas, the worry is not a real threat. If you work on Wall Street and have a fear of farm threshers, you’re good for now.
Now take it a step further: Think about the worst thing that could happen if your fear actually materialized. What if that shark found its way to Kansas and bit your leg clean off? It’s true your professional tap-dancing career could be over, but you might still go on to win a gold medal in the Paralympics. If you lost your business, lost your faithful dog, lost your spouse or lost your mind, it can be the start of a bold new chapter in your life adventure.
The point is, when your worst fears happen, it is never game over. You will always have the power to change your attitude, even in the worst of situations. What about death, you ask? On the plus side, you finally get a good night’s sleep!
But this doesn’t mean you should walk around completely unprepared for the worst. Excrement does hit the fan, so what is the simplest solution to overcoming the fear you may be avoiding? After all, the only thing worse than our fear becoming manifest is being caught with our pants down, when we always knew better.
Book to read before asking for a raise.
In August 1953, an obscure country boy named Elvis Presley walked into the offices of Sun Records. He aimed to pay for a few minutes of studio time to record a two-sided acetate disc: “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.”
He later claimed that he was merely interested in what he “sounded like”, although there was a much cheaper, amateur record-making service at a nearby general store. Biographer Peter Guralnick thinks that he chose Sun in the hope of being discovered. Asked by receptionist Marion Keisker what kind of singer he was, Presley responded, “I sing all kinds.” When she pressed him on who he sounded like, he repeatedly answered, “I don’t sound like nobody.”
Elvis couldn’t imagine what was coming next for him. How could he foresee a glorious career of legendary fame and musical adventure? The future is hidden until it happens. You never know what you might be capable of, until later. If you knew what was in store for you, life wouldn’t be nearly so interesting. So maybe it’s time for you to head down to Memphis. You never know what might come of it.
The other day, a friend who chooses to make art rather than work a conventional job presented his latest creation, a sculpture built from found objects coupled with a backstory that blended ancient mythology, Amish folklore, and sexual politics.* The reaction in some quarters was that he had “too much time on his hands” to have created a piece like this.
Are they right? Or do they have it backwards?
Today’s human is programmed to be a busy, productive creature who is meant to work at making money least 8 hours a day, while filling the rest of their waking hours with activities to ward off idleness.
Being fully employed is a way to “keep the devil at bay,” the devil being the stress of controlling your own thoughts and actions, which will veer into sinfulness, sloth, and eventually full-on madness should you let them go slack for any length of time.
“I’m crazy busy” is now a frequent refrain of the upper classes. Despite the negative connotations of being crazy — aka “mentally unhinged” — it is used as a symbol of status, the implication being that one’s life is full to overflowing between work, family and recreation.
But what is the result of all this busyness? For one, we’re moving in the direction of fusing man with machine, until people are more like the computers they rely on to increase productivity. Is this a good thing? We’re too busy to stop and find out!
Meanwhile, the race never stops for new products, experiences, and pharmaceuticals to fill our time so we can shut off the incessant voices telling us that maybe we’re going down the wrong path. Our planet is now burning up from the results of our industriousness, thanks to carbon, methane and other toxins being released into the atmosphere.
Maybe not working so much, reversing our mad dash towards “full cyborg” and taking some of the trash we leave behind to create objects d’art is the right path forward. Indian Yogis have known the power of being idle for centuries, sitting in meditation to gain power, aura and knowledge from the state of idleness. Doing absolutely nothing can really be something, as Shiva and his followers can attest.
In another bit of good news for those contemplating a slower life, research shows that when one remains idle, blood flow to brain doesn’t decrease. The blood flow formerly used to “power ahead” and “win at all costs” is used to store data in the permanent memory compartments, so the state of idleness improves the sensitivity of the brain helps you retain information.
Still, the world today only allow idleness as a function of old age, the retired sitting on porches and staring out into the void. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s more a function of gravity taking it’s toll, than an embrace of freedom’s virtues.
So rather than idleness being the devil’s workshop, reversing our mad dash towards full productivity may be the only way to keep the devil from claiming our souls.
*”Stoltzfus Devil Chair”
Whether it’s a cure for procrastination, a way to beat the stock market, a method for hacking your brain to achieve total clarity, or the one diet that will help you shed pounds without giving up your favorite coconut cream pie, there’s no lack of people will to offer you “the answer.”
Yet why don’t the experts’ directives live up to their hype? Because the true answer to the pressing issues you’re facing right now is this: there is no answer. Each life is a curious amalgam of genetic markers, family skeletons, previous experiences, and standardized test scores. There is no one-size-fits-all answer in any category. Nor can anyone give you assurance that the path you are on will lead to your hoped-for destination.
“Abandon the search for reason” is the ancient Daoist healing practice to unshackle you from the desperate need to get things right. When the questions arise in your mind, like “Why me?” or “Where is God now?” or “Who put soy milk in my no-foam latte?”, you can be freed of the burden of having to find the answer before your time on earth is up.
It’s much more enjoyable spending your days living in the mystery, where the real excitement can be found. This way, you can plunge ahead, taking actions that might be right or wrong. Or neither. Only time will tell.
As for the bellicose authors, control-freak life coaches, and cardboard spiritualists with their ALL CAP PROCLAMATIONS OF 30-DAY MIRACLES, you can confidently answer their come-ons with the powerful understanding that they do not have “the answer” — for in fact, there isn’t one!*
*However, if you find yourself in legal trouble, make sure you consult an experienced attorney.