Anxiety: Where does it come from and what gets rid of it? (November 6, 2010)

For the last week or so, I have been thinking about and practicing around anxiety. The reason is that it struck me, in a way it never has before, that anxiety isn’t really necessary. As the Text says about anxiety, “This need not be” (T-4.IV.4:1). So I just now sat down to collect all the references to anxiety in the Course in an attempt to understand the subject better. I really like what came out of this little study, and I thought I would share some of the results with you.

We should probably start by asking what anxiety is. Anxiety is really just a form of fear. However, it is generally a more free-floating, non-specific kind of fear. We can feel anxiety without really knowing what we are anxious about. And we can feel it constantly, at least in low levels. Thus, it is more of a generalized condition than a specific, passing emotion, such as fear tends to be.

Where does anxiety come from? The references to anxiety in the Course consistently talk of it coming not from external circumstances, but from our “own ego identification” (T-12.III.6:5). If you have read the Course, this should not surprise you; the Course says all negative emotions come from ego-identification. However, I think we can get more specific about the source of anxiety. Anxiety comes from feeling alone and outgunned. It comes from feeling that what I have to deal with is too big for me, that I am not equal to the challenges I face. The Course says that anxiety, along with helplessness, is “an inevitable consequence of separation” (W-pI.41.1:2). Separation, of course, involves feeling alone and small. The Course also says anxiety comes from “trusting in your own strength” (W-pI.47.1:1), which is simply too weak to resolve your problems. In sum, then, anxiety comes from feeling as if I am this small ego, alone and helpless, too weak to overcome all the problems and enemies that face me. Surely we can identify with this.

This reminds me of a favorite passage of mine from The Source, by James Michener. In trying to trace the roots of religion, the book tells the story of Ur, a prehistoric man who is grappling with forces and questions that are simply too big for him. It says, “And the anguish that Ur knew that night—the mystery of death, the triumph of evil, the terrible loneliness of being alone, the discovery that self of itself is insufficient—is the anxiety that torments the world to this day.” That last part says exactly what the Course is saying. From whence comes the anxiety that torments the world? From “the discovery that self of itself is insufficent.”

What, then, frees us from anxiety? The Course’s comments are particularly consistent here:

  • Placing our trust in the strength of God (W-pI.47.1-4)
  • Resting in God (W-pI.109.5:1)
  • Awareness of God’s Presence, including His Love, protection, and care (W-pI.124.4:1-2)
  • Placing our future in the Hands of God (W-pI.194.2:1)
  • Leaving all things to the guidance of God’s healing Voice (W-pII.275.2:1-3)
  • Letting God’s Love come streaming in to our awareness (W-pII.323.1:1)

There is a clear and obvious pattern here. What liberates us from anxiety is reliance on God. This makes perfect sense in light of what we saw above as the cause of anxiety. If anxiety comes from “the discovery that self of itself is insufficent,” then what more perfect antidote could there be than the self no longer being “of itself”? If instead the self relies on God’s Love, strength, guidance, protection, and care, then what happens to the whole basis of anxiety?

I am speaking theoretically, yet there could hardly be a more practical subject, for we humans are anxious all the time. It may be a small background hum or it may be a constant debilitating tension. But it is always there. If, therefore, we could transfer our identification from our aloneness to God’s Love and strength, we could be free of anxiety, all the time. We wouldn’t need to arrange special times of escape from our burdens. We wouldn’t feel any burden.

The Course has beautiful and evocative descriptions of this state. Please read these three passages slowly and try to imagine that they are describing your state:

Can you imagine what it means to have no cares, no worries, no anxieties, but merely to be perfectly calm and quiet all the time? (T-15.I.1:1)

In Him you have no cares and no concerns, no burdens, no anxiety, no pain, no fear of future and no past regrets. (W-pI.109.5:1)

Your healing Voice protects all things today, and so I leave all things to You. I need be anxious over nothing. (W-pII.275.2:1-2)

What a wonderful message—we need be anxious over nothing. Could it really be true? Is it possible that we don’t need to “do” anxiety, that quite literally “this need not be”? If having “no cares, no worries, no anxieties” is a goal that attracts us, then let us pursue it. Let us practice seeing ourselves standing not on our own two feet, but instead on the Everlasting Arms. Let us walk the road from “self of itself” to “I leave all things to You.”

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