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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/11/20

How Deconstructing Anxiety Makes Transcendence Possible

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All of us suffer from anxiety. Not necessarily the clinical type, but anxiety nonetheless. Philosophers, psychologists, and spiritual adepts have always pointed to fear in some form as the fundamental problem of the human condition.

Our vulnerability in the face of an unfathomable universe can leave us feeling helpless, exposed, and profoundly overwhelmed. When asking the inevitable existential questions"Who am I?", "Is there meaning to life?", "What is to be done about suffering?" and "How can I be happy?"we hear our questions echoing in a seemingly endless void. But these questions, the essence of our human predicament, beg for answers. We are compelled to rise above our unknowingness, to find some mastery over our circumstances no matter how daunting the task. We cannot quit in this; our need for answers will not relent. It is a task worthy of our greatest devotion. For in the end, what else really matters?

With the understanding that fear is the fundamental problem in being human, we have our starting point. To pursue this quest, we must fully deconstruct anxiety, reveal its origins and mechanism, and find its resolution. This is so for anyone working with identified anxiety as well as those who seek to resolve suffering in general, to discover an authentic, enduring fulfillment in life.

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Three Postulates for Deconstructing Anxiety

There are three postulates that form the foundation for this quest, which I call the Deconstructing Anxiety model:

1) There is an absolute truth that can be realized. It brings a transcendent experience of fulfillment and is characterized by wholeness, completion, and freedom from limitation. It is our original and natural state.

2) Fear (being used here as a synonym for anxiety) distorts this truth, fracturing it into partial, relative "truths." It breaks up the wholeness, leaving us feeling incomplete and vulnerable to suffering, separating us from our natural state.

3) Deconstructing anxiety resolves fear's distortions, opening the way back to absolute truth and returning us to our natural state of fulfillment.

These three postulates define our path for the resolution not only of anxiety, but suffering in general, and the (re)discovery of a transcendent fulfillment. For, despite the anxiety that seems inherent in our state of affairs, there is something in the human spirit that yearns for this transcendent experience, an absolute truth that is invulnerable to the distortions and limitations of fear.

It is a yearning to be whole and fulfilled, to find a unified and harmonious way of being beyond all relative, shifting states. We long to know who we truly are, with a constant and certain sense of self. Exhausted from the ever-fluctuating moods and changing identities of our usual experience, we seek a solid place to stand. We want a satisfaction that does not continually give way to disappointment, to know that we live in more than a random, chaotic universe. We are called to find something greater, something that is, indeed, absolute.

An Impossible Challenge?

Too often, though, this seems an impossible challenge. We arrive in the world ready to be afraid. Helpless and vulnerable, we are completely dependent on others. Bit-by-bit, we become caught in a web of defensive postures and self-protective maneuvers to ensure our needs will be met. Fear becomes our chief advisor in this effort. We learn to seek its counsel first in every situation. Its strategies are supposed to provide security but inevitably lock us into ever-more fearful ways of being. Like a hermit crab peering out of its shell, we move through life anxiously looking for signs of danger, ready at an instant to jump back inside and hide behind our door.

This fearful approach to life exacts an extraordinary toll. Its walls of security place blinders on our experience and boundaries on our potential. Like looking into a broken mirror, they fracture the unified truth we seek into many partial views, vacillating perspectives that can leave us hopelessly lost about who we are and how to be happy. We try valiantly to accept that this is the best we can expecta sort of truce with our sufferingbuying into the social conditioning that this is what it means to be "well adjusted". Still, the need for something greater, for a deep and true fulfillment, will not leave us. And so we live in a constant state of restlessness, complying with fear yet urging for wholeness.

It has become "fashionable" to accept the inevitability of our human condition, to believe that transcendence and an absolute truth are not possible. We are, as a culture, cynical and suspicious of anything which suggests this transcendent view. Many will vehemently defend their cynicism and their vehemence gives us cause to question their objectivity. But the stance that says we must "accept reality" (while certainly an advance beyond Pollyanna-type thinking), will always leave us unsatisfied, even dejected. And what is the value of accepting a "truth" that does not promote well-being? No matter how convinced we are that there is no absolute truth, we simply cannot rest until we pursue the question further. When negating the possibility of transcendence we must instead ask: Why do I need to defend this position? What is the fear if I at least consider the alternative?

Furthermore, what if the idea that there is no absolute truth is itself a relative truth, the result (as in our second postulate) of hidden fears not fully examined? What if the only reason we have not experienced an ultimate state is that we have not yet fully deconstructed and resolved our fear, seeing it all the way through to its other side (the third postulate)? We cannot afford to pre-determine that this goal is out of reach before finding out for ourselves whether this is so.

Anxiety Distorts Truth

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Todd Pressman, Ph.D. is a psychologist, award-winning speaker and internationally recognized authority on anxiety. He graduated with degrees in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and Saybrook Institute. His books "Deconstructing Anxiety: The Journey from Fear to Fulfillment", "Radical (more...)

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