perfer et obdura; dolor hic tibi proderit olim. (be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you)
My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened. - Michel de Montaigne
Is it not a very strange thing in this world, where there is so much distraction, entertainment, that almost everybody is a spectator or a NPC and very few are Main Characters? Whenever we have a little free time, most of us seek some form of amusement. We indulge in gossip, read books, or listen to music. If we are in a developed nation we go online or scroll through social media or we turn on the television. There is a constant demand to be amused, to be entertained, to be taken away from ourselves.
We are afraid to be alone, afraid to be without a companion, without a distraction of some sort. Very few of us ever take a walk not listening to music or a podcast, but just walking quietly and observing things about us and within ourselves. We almost never do that because, most of us are very bored; we are caught in a mundane routine of learning or teaching, of household duties, or a job and so in our free time we want to be amused, either lightly or seriously. We watch YouTube videos or binge watch Netflix, or we turn to whatever the mainstream narrative is debating, which is the same thing. Politics and science have become forms of distraction, a kind of serious escape from boredom, from routine.
Has all of this even been noticed? Most people are constantly occupied with something, with worship, with the repetition of certain words, with worrying over this or that because they are frightened to be alone with themselves. Try being alone, without any form of distraction, and one will see how quickly one wants to get away from oneself and forget what one is. That is why this enormous structure of professional amusement, of automated distraction, is such a prominent part of what we call civilization.
If one observes one will see the people of the world are becoming more and more distracted, increasingly sophisticated and cosmopolitan. The multiplication of pleasures, the innumerable blogs that are being published, the web pages filled with sporting events, surely, all these indicate that we constantly want to be amused. Because we are inwardly empty, dull, mediocre, we use our relationships and other social reforms as a means of escaping from ourselves. I wonder if we have noticed how lonely most people are? And to escape from loneliness we run to restaurants, bars, or gyms, we dress up for social functions, we watch television, listen to podcasts, binge Netflix & YouTube, and so on.
To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one's self.... And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one's self. - Søren Kierkegaard
Anxiety is induced by thoughts of what might happen, what might occur, never of what is happening in the now. One becomes stuck in a loop where ones mind cycles through Infinite permutations of how an experience will go, many of them negative, many of them mentally and physically paralyzing. Much of this can be overcome by approaching moments and experiences with a tabla rasa (a mind that is blank, empty, open). When one approaches a situation in this manner there is no stress, no anxiety, no pre conceived notions.
One simply experiences the moment for what it is. See, anxiety is at its worst ahead of an experience, not at the time of the experience itself. When one ruminates about the unknown, the uncertain, the undefined, one is caught by anxiety and its paralysis.
It’s a sign of modernity, the fact that no one can experience something without a preconceived conception of what it will be. Everything is pre programmed, influenced by society, and contextualized by the zeitgeist. This is information (noise) that colors all that we do and all that we experience. The signal, which is the true conveyor of valuable information is drowned out by a sea of noise that surrounds us. Inundated by noise one is never at peace
Social medias ease of use is changing the world, it is changing us, but we’ve begun to see negative effects that comes along with instant communication and gratification. Social isolation. Depression. Anxiety. The list goes on. There needs to be well known methods to fend off feelings of despair. A method to rise above, to thrive, to flourish.
So, once again we turn to the great minds of the past to better understand our current situation and ascertain the ways to move forward. For, we have the WILL to flourish, not to just exist.
The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time. - Jack London
In a world where technology crushes each one of our individual universes, it’s interesting to recall the purpose of philosophy. Thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras didn’t only write about morality, ethics, and aesthetics.The ancients dealt with anxiety too, they viewed it as something that could be reduce by a strong mind, an open mind, and a controlled mind.
How does one obtain a mind that is strong, open, and controlled? It takes conscious work to cultivate such a mind, a mind that is flexible yet firm no matter the environment. Philosophy is riddled with unsolvable dichotomies, but one must be intelligent enough to juggle these dichotomies in order to push forward on the path of wisdom. Ancient philosophers conceived of philosophy as way of life in order to achieve any of the following states (broadly speaking):
ataraxia (tranquility). Seneca
eudaimonia (contentment) Plato
aponia (absence of pain) Epicurus
apatheia (freedom from passion) Zeno
arete (virtue/excellence) Aristotle
The above ways of living are examples of how one strives to achieve states of happiness/peace/well being throughout ones life. One does not remain in one state because ones life is never static. We are dynamic beings, live dynamically. One flows from tranquil to happy, from desirous to disciplined. One needs to develop the ability to consciously move from one state to another. Simply, one can attain the ability to experience all that life has to offer. This is the beauty of life, it contains multitudes. The openness to flow between states is what reduces anxiety, the urge to fight the flow is what invites anxiety in to ones life.
Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems. - Epictetus
Again, experience the moment or situation with a tabla rasa, free from preconceived notions, free from fear, or free from anything that colors a situation before it has been experienced. This is a method for one to rid oneself of anxiety. One is freed from anxiety by approaching life with an openness for what is going to happen even if the outcome is uncertain, by doing so, one is living not just existing - waiting for someone else to something else to act.
Seneca writes in Letters From a Stoic, Letter 15 . - " l trust this finds you as it leaves me; in good health." We have good reason to say "I trust this finds you in pursuit of wisdom." This is what is meant by good health. "Cultivate an asset which the passing of time itself improves." The life of folly is empty of gratitude, full of anxiety: it is focused wholly on the future." Greek. It is pleasant to never ask for anything. Be present and grateful for what you have.
A focus on the acute, the ephemeral, the now, the present is what frees one of anxiety and stress. So, to all, be open, be present - experience life with a regard for beauty, discipline and excellence. Live in the now, don’t be bogged down by what might happen or what someone might think.
Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside. - Marcus Aurelius
The Stoic discipline of ASSENT (Sunkatathesis) is the ability to assent to true impressions, dissent from false ones, and suspend judgment (epoché) toward uncertain ones. Concerned with how we should judge our impressions so as not to be carried away by them into anxiety or disturbing emotions.
When I see an anxious person, I ask myself, what do they want? For if a person wasn’t wanting something outside of their own control, why would they be stricken by anxiety. -Epictetus, Discourses
Montaigne’s greatest gift to us, however, is his unflinching acceptance of imperfection — for, without it, we are bound to remain forever oppressed by our perfectionism. Much of this he drew from the fact — and the act — of aging, but not in the way we might expect.
It was not that age automatically conferred wisdom. On the contrary, he thought the old were more given to vanities and imperfections than the young. They were inclined to “a silly and decrepit pride, a tedious prattle, prickly and unsociable humors, superstition, and a ridiculous concern for riches.” But this was the twist, for it was in the adjustment to such flaws that the value of aging lay. Old age provides an opportunity to recognize one’s fallibility in a way youth usually finds difficult. Seeing one’s decline written on body and mind, one accepts that one is limited and human. By understanding that age does not make one wise, one attains a kind of wisdom after all. Learning to live, in the end, is learning to live with imperfection in this way, and even to embrace it. - Bakewell
Montaigne put it best himself: Our being is cemented with sickly qualities … Whoever should remove the seeds of these qualities from man would destroy the fundamental conditions of our life.
Montaigne wrote about life and its many idiosyncrasies. From how one should sleep to how one should approach a business deal. Anxiety was a topic Montaigne addressed by stating that much time is lost in life worrying about what has not happened, lost in future possibilities. This type of thinking is what fuels anxiety, and takes one from the present moment. He also, despite the magnificently winding road of his existential meditations, gave us the straightforward answer on how to live: Life should be an aim unto itself, a purpose unto itself.
Tocqueville wrote in a more philosophical in tone even though his works cover politics and sociology. His most famous work - Democracy in America outlines the democratic individual character traits of compassion, restlessness, and rational self interest.
Tocqueville claims that democracy makes us more compassionate. Commerce made us more gentile through a softening of morals and manners through commerce and democracy it allowed for a moral progress of sorts. However, all compassion comes with a price. It leads to a sense of “I feel so I don’t need to act“. This is misplaced compassion that leads to social justice warriors, political correctness advocates, and hyper woke ideologues.
The moral imagination of the democratic individual leads to the widening of who one is compassionate towards - “I feel your pain”. Modernity is rife with the feelings of restlessness, anxiety: the desire for material well being. These are the the dominating drives of Western capitalism. Not realizing how well off one really is, never present, never satisfied, distracted from ones happiness and the fleeting felicity. This is akin to Plato’s democratic soul, which displays agitation among ones world of abundance causing a virtual obligation of happiness. Self interest, well understood is a comprehensive set of behaviors against vanity and consumerism. The pursuit of self interest is a virtue that allows for the true pursuit of well being and control over oneself.
Nietzsche is famous for many things, but his most famous writing outlines the Will to Power. It is a way to live life that is motivated by power. Those that are powerful are able to live their lives to the fullest, largely free from anxiety. This is due to their self assurance. This set assurance is attained from many years of choosing to do what is hard, rather than what is easy. Facing difficulties head on rather than running from them, this is the noble/master morality. It is the way that leads to strength, power, and happiness.
Doing difficult things makes one lose anxiety and live in the moment. Thus, man ascends the highest mountains on dangerous path’s, to laugh scornfully at his anxiety and his trembling knees; thus the philosopher professes views of asceticism, humility, and sent it he in whose splendor his own image is made exceedingly ugly. This breaking of oneself, this mockery of one’s own nature, this scorn of ones being scorned of which religions have made so much, is really a very high degree of vanity. The whole morality of the sermon on the mount belongs here: man experiences a veritable voluptuousness in violating himself by means of exaggerated demands and in then deifying this tyrannically demanding force in his soul.
These modern creatures wish rather to be hunted down, wounded and torn to shreds, than to live alone with themselves in solitary calm. Alone with oneself!—this thought terrifies the modern soul; it is his one anxiety, his one ghastly fear. In his feverish scurry to find entertainment and diversion, whether in a novel, a newspaper, or a play, the modern man condemns his own age utterly; for he shows that in his heart of hearts he despises himself. One cannot change a condition of this sort in a day; to become endurable to oneself an inner transformation is necessary. Too long have we lost ourselves in our friends and entertainments to be able to find ourselves so soon at another’s bidding. And verily, it is no commandment for to-day and to-morrow to LEARN to love oneself. - Nietzsche
Rather is it of all arts the finest, subtlest, last, and patientest. In the last verse Nietzsche challenges us to show that our way is the right way. In his teaching he does not coerce us, nor does he overpersuade; he simply says:
I am a law only for mine own, I am not a law for all. This—is now MY way,—where is yours? - Nietzsche
As Martin Heidegger said: - Anxiety discloses “nothing” to us. anxiety lacks a target. It shears away meaning, revealing the pointlessness of it all, the utter, hollowed-out barrenness of existence. Through the release of anxiety sprouts the astonishment that we are here.
Heidegger focused on time and being in time. His writings show how one is influenced by the time in which they live, they zeitgeist. If ones time is exceedingly distracting, like the time we currently live in then one is more prone to be anxious. But, what is the reason for the distraction? Perhaps it is the loss of family, religion, shared stories and an increase in education and free time. For, people need something to distract them to avoid the perils of boredom and idol hands. It is better for a young man to play video games than going out to commit crimes. The distractions of our time are actually being used as deterrents for those in society who have not found their place, for those lost, for those not ready to accept their fate and live the life that is in front of them. This is anxiety, the failure to be content. Stop, breath, assess, open up.
Rene Girard is the godfather of mimesis. Mimesis is the urge to want something that someone you admire wants, not the thing itself per se, but the feeling of want spurred by the one being admired. Ah, the Joneses. Human feelings are a cacophony of beauty, fear, pain, and happiness.
One particularly human feeling along these lines is a certain kind of anxiety: the need to make sure your peers recognize that you have obtained something, or have accomplished something, or in some other way have become a particular type of person; while simultaneously needing to make sure they don’t catch you trying to make sure they see it. To get exposed as a striver is the worst thing that can happen to you, because it basically confirms to everyone else that you’re not that particular person you’re trying to project; we can’t both be X and also be actively striving to become X. (narcissists experience this in a particularly tormenting way, because the person they’re lying to and are ashamed in front of is themselves.) The closer the role model is to us, the more shame we feel as we flip back and forth between adoringly imitating them and performatively distancing ourselves from them.
So, one should turn inward and become self aware. To examine oneself to ascertain what it is that is causing fear and anxiety. To understand that not everything can be controlled, in fact, the only thing one can control is ones reaction to things. One cannot control how another man thinks, but one can choose how to respond to his speech. One can choose to be persuasive or vulgar, violent or peaceful - its all in the reaction.
The ancients were clearly aware of anxiety and looked, just as we do, for ways to overcome it. Although, anxiety is a part of the human condition there are time-tested solutions that are based in the same common sense as many modern approaches to anxiety. If we try to control only what we can, try to be mindful of the present moment, and reflect each day on how realistic our expectations are, we will be able to relinquish much of the anxiety that comes and goes each day.
There is a very holistic way of living that had been known in the ancient world as the "Bios Pythagorikos" (the Pythagorean Way of Life) that included a healthy diet, daily rigorous physical exercise, and philosophical group discussions (dialectical discussions) that were meant to help a person better understand their universe and their purpose within that universe. And living ethically was also essential. For the Greeks, act-right/think-right were the keys towards well-being.
So, to combat anxiety one should apply the ancient solution mentioned above; one might be amazed at how differently one feels and how differently one experiences the world.