Got Anxiety?

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Have you ever dreamed of a more peaceful existence? Leaving your life as you know it and moving to a beach island. Selling all your belongings and buying a boat to set sail at sea. Meeting that special someone that completes your life. Travel, beauty, status and love: the four pillars of Western culture upon which our economy is built. However, no matter where you go, there you are. Anxiety and all.

You have good reason to have anxiety. You are a vulnerable physical being, a complicated network of fragile organs all biding their time before eventually letting you down catastrophically at a moment of their own choosing. We have insufficient information upon which to make most major life decisions: we are steering more or less blind. We are saturated with media that convince us we are not satisfied. We live not far from the savage animal community and carry in our bones- into the suburbs- the fear of savagery encroaching on us. We rely for our self-esteem and sense of comfort on the love of people we cannot control and whose needs and hopes will never align seamlessly with our own. The world we live in is strife with wars, threats and instability and our fundamental biology tells us to procreate and bring more children into this.

Anxiety

But is it all futile?

viktor-franklViktor Frankl was a Jewish doctor, psychologist and philosopher. He lived from 1905-1997. He and his sister survived the Nazi concentration camp. His mother, father, brother and wife all died at the camp. He was prisoner 119,104. He was working on a manuscript that was his life’s work before he was arrested. He sewed it into the lining of his coat when he was arrested by Nazis only to lose it during his transfer to Auschwitz. His manuscript was titled The Doctor and the Soul. He watched those in the labor camps perish after they lost all hope in the future. But he kept busy recalling the text of his manuscript and rewriting it on secret bits of paper. It gave him purpose and meaning when his life was deteriorated and wickedly oppressed. The following is his theory on anxiety.

He called his form of therapy logotherapy, from the Greek word logos, which can mean study, word, spirit, God, or meaning.  I find logos to be personally meaningful since my mind immediately thinks of The Word and what more influential of a text is there when it comes to a person’s existential condition? It is the last sense Frankl focuses on, although the other definitions are never far off.  Comparing himself with the other great Viennese psychiatrists, Freud and Adler, he suggested that Freud essentially postulated a will to pleasure as the root of all human motivation, and Adler a will to power.  Logotherapy postulates a will to meaning.

Frankl also uses the Greek word noös, which means mind or spirit.  In traditional psychology we focus on “psychodynamics,” which sees people as trying to reduce psychological tension.  Instead, or in addition, Frankl says we should pay attention to noödynamics, wherein tension is necessary for health when it comes to meaning.  People, maybe even unknowingly, desire the tension involved in striving for some worthy goal! Perhaps one perverse interpretation of this yearning we see in popular culture is the ‘drama queen’, people who seek out drama but for vain purposes. It could be an unconscious desire for tension that if used in the affirmative would be for a higher purpose.

“Being human is being responsible — existentially responsible, responsible for one’s own existence.” –Viktor Frankl

Animals have instincts that guide them thus reducing the burden of ‘choice’. In traditional societies we have replaced instincts with traditions that guide us thus still reducing choice.  Today, we hardly even have that.  Most people attempt to find guidance in conformity and conventionality but it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid facing the fact that we now have the freedom and the responsibility to make our own choices in life, to find our own meaning. And because of this choice we are afflicted with anxiety.

manderlay_ver3I am reminded of Lars Von Trier’s film Manderlay in which there is a fictional town in 1930’s Alabama where slavery still reigns. A progressive young woman comes into town trying to transform it from slavery to free democracy only to ultimately find out that the slaves wish to keep the status quo and persist in following ‘mam’s’ code of conduct manual, which the eldest slave enforces. This mental discussion from the movie always stuck with me. Could it be that the people would rather have an easy totalitarianism than a burdened freedom? So that one doesn’t have to face the anxiety of existential responsibility.

Frankl suggests that one of the most conspicuous signs of anxiety in our society is boredom and because of this boredom we fill our lives with stuff. Pleasures, power, conformity, OCD’s, hatred, anger, etc. There is anticipatory anxiety:  Someone may be so afraid of getting certain anxiety-related symptoms that getting those symptoms becomes inevitable.  The anticipatory anxiety causes the very thing that is feared!  Test anxiety is an obvious example:  If you are afraid of doing poorly on tests, the anxiety will prevent you from doing well on the test, leading you to be afraid of tests, and so on. The converse but similar symptom of anxiety is hyperintention.  This is a matter of trying too hard, which itself prevents you from succeeding at something.  One of the most common examples is insomnia:  Many people, when they can’t sleep, continue to try to fall asleep, using every method in the book.  Of course, trying to sleep itself prevents sleep, so the cycle continues.  A third is hyperreflection. In other words the self fulfilling prophecy. An example would be someone who learns that they should view themselves as a victim thus starts behaving like a victim such as a woman who is sexually abused as a child but nevertheless grows up to be a healthy functioning adult but upon reading literature that tells her people with this experience often have sexual dysfunction as adults she starts suddenly being dysfunctional in that area.

Frankl attributes anxiety to man’s attitude to his surroundings, how he let’s his surroundings affect himself. It is the obsession with oneself that leads to anxiety and in extreme conditions ultimately leads to loss of hope or futility. Could it be a coincidence that anxiety is developing more rapidly in our modern Western culture in which we are told ever so increasingly to ‘look inward’ for meaning, to love yourself before you can love someone else, to admire our own beauty through selfies, to take quizzes that compare us to our Facebook friends, find self worth from the amount of Instagram followers we have, etc? We live in an age of narcissism. ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ really is accurate these days.

In the labor camps Frankl witnessed people die upon losing all hope but he also witnessed people find meaning despite their suffering. That is one thing your captor, oppressor, authority can never take from you: the spark in your soul and the attitude with which you process your experience.

How to find meaning?

Experiential values. This is by experiencing something we value such as great art or natural wonders or showing love to a beloved, beyond just loving them as objects but loving them meaningfully.

Creative values. This is doing a deed. Becoming involved in one’s creative project such as art, writing, invention, music, so on.

Attitudinal values. This is finding meaning through such virtues as compassion, bravery, a good sense of humor and believe it or not; suffering.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” –Viktor Frankl

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Ultimately, however, experiential, creative, and attitudinal values are merely surface manifestations of something much more fundamental, which he calls supra-meaning or transcendence.  Suprameaning is the idea that there is, in fact, ultimate meaning in life, meaning that is not dependent on others, on our projects, or even on our dignity.  It is a reference to God and spiritual meaning.

This sets Frankl’s existentialism apart from the existentialism of someone like Jean Paul Sartre.  Sartre and other atheistic existentialists suggest that life is ultimately meaningless, and we must find the courage to face that meaninglessness.  Sartre says we must learn to endure ultimate meaninglessness; Frankl instead says that we need to learn to endure our inability to fully comprehend ultimate meaningfulness, for “Logos is deeper than logic.”

A relief is that meaning is there to be discovered. It doesn’t have to be invented it is already written into the complex and amazing fabric of the universe and we free-willed consciously reflecting persons need only discover it.

Got Anxiety?

What Does God Really Want From You?

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Does God want discomfort and suffering in your life? Does God want limitations on your life through such avenues as law, morality, traditions, covenants? Does the story of Abraham show that God changes his mind or that God fulfills his promises?

Matisyahu, the observant Hasidic Jewish reggae singer has abandoned the observances and taken on a quasi-religious, spiritual, customized faith. The article below reads : “Matisyahu’s relationship with Judaism: It’s complicated.” Indeed.

http://www.haaretz.com/life/music-theater/1.646213

Are you unbound when you abandon the doctrine of God or lost?

The subheading of the Haaretz article says: “divested of his beard, his wife and his ultra-Orthodox trappings.” Matisyahu has become unbound. He says, “This stage of my life is about what you would consider the unbinding. Getting out of the religion, getting out of the marriage, the relationships.” He compares it to God bringing the Jews out of the bondage of the Egyptians. It seems he feels he’s going directly to God by abandoning the dictates and customs of the Hebrew bible.

Notice, though, that God told Moses to tell Pharaoh “Let my people go so that they may serve Me.” It wasn’t simply secular freedom that God wanted for his people but rather freedom to serve God. Matisyahu also compares his new unbinding to the story of Abraham binding and offering as sacrifice his son Isaac and then being stopped by an angel. It seems he misses the point. God promised that through Isaac Abraham’s offspring would be named. If it were God’s will that Isaac have died He would have found another way for Isaac to live and have offspring because God fulfills his promises. God wanted to know that Abraham trusted him so when Abraham brought Isaac up the mountain and was willing to sacrifice him while not fulling understanding why but because he trusted God that was all God needed to know and God fulfilled his promise. In Matisyahu’s view God changed his mind for the sake of Isaac’s freedom. This would be the secular view. But God always knew what He would do even if Abraham and Isaac didn’t and the point is He was trusted. So I don’t know if Matisyahu’s unbinding is for religious transcendence. It seems, rather, that it’s for secular pursuits.

In another article he says his new album, produced under his new irreligious image, is “dealing with more real-life issues and less ideology.” By “real-life” it would, again, seem to mean secular pursuits and it’s telling that he considers biblical doctrine to be “ideology”. What’s more real in a religious person’s life than one’s standing in God’s eyes through the observance of God’s will as outlined in the bible?

Some are saying this new stripping of the observances “is some kind of weakness.” Even in the comments section of the Facebook linked article people are saying these are all excuses for selling out to the comforts of fame. I don’t know what’s in Matisyahu’s heart and mind nor do I know how he stands in God’s favor but all of this sparks interest for me into the important question of what does God want from us, how can it be known and is it absolute?

The British short story writer Rudyard Kipling wrote in The Elephant’s Child:

I keep six honest serving men

(they taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

It does seem that a lot of what Matisyahu didn’t like about being a practicing Jew is that it came from a place of blind obligation. Conversely now, as he remarks on the law: “I don’t do it because I have to, otherwise I’m sinning. I do it because I love it. I do certain things and other things I don’t do. So it’s not so black-and-white as to whether I’m observant.” But what if his love (for certain observances) is fleeting as it was with his wife? The heart is fickle.

We know who gave the law (God), we know how (the bible) but why? Paul, in the New Testament Romans 9:32 says that the reason Israel stumbled into destruction was not that they didn’t pursue the law, but that they pursued it in the wrong way: from works and not from faith; in the effort of the flesh instead of the power of the Spirit. In other words, moral effort can be a mortal sin.

Galatians Chapter 3 describes why the law was given. Even though the law as it was given is good, the flesh corrupted the law. Because of corrupt flesh the law reveals sin and intensifies sin; and second, the law sees to it that the inheritance will come to and through the promised seed. The purpose of the law was not to make people alive but to hold them in sin until the promise was made in a final sense to the seed of Abraham, with Jesus Christ. The reason the law compounded sin instead of giving life was that the recipients of the law were ruled by the flesh and devoid of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:7 describes the kind of mind which the law met with when it came: “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed, it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” The law requires proud and independent people to humble themselves and depend on God’s transforming mercy. What a person does (works) will never be enough. Half the observances, all the observances? No matter. It is by grace through faith, the New Testament faith in He who fulfills Abraham’s seed that brings one to God.

Matisyahu is right that the law (the observances) is a trapping that cannot free him but freedom is not found by abandoning the law either. It is promised through He who fulfills the law. Could it be that he is abandoning salvation by works and depending on grace through faith? Could it be that he’s stepping into the New Testament? Or is he stepping into the flesh? Only God knows for sure.

What Does God Really Want From You?