Anxiety Comes Out Of Denial

There can’t ever be such a thing as ‘a method to stop worrying’ and there’s a very simple reason for this – the universe, in essence, is composed of nothing but pure electric uncertainty with no solid, ‘reliable’ basis whatsoever. This is physics, not metaphysics – this is just the way things are, and there’s no getting around it. What we might call the essential psychological fact of our existence is that there is no such thing as ‘ontological security’ and that there never can be. Using the language of physics rather than philosophy, we can say that this ‘lack of ontological security’ is the result of the essential relativity of all possible statements that we might make about reality (which is to say, the way in which the measurements we might make of the universe reflect the assumptions we have made in the measurement process rather than any objective external reality).

Whatever certainty we might find in the world is there because we have surreptitiously engineered for it to be there, not because it’s actually there (of its own accord, so to speak). What there ‘of its own accord’ is a Big Fat Question Mark and that big fat question mark is hanging above our heads wherever we go. It’s hanging there whether we want to lift our gaze to see it or whether we don’t (and almost always we don’t want). The only way we can have this experience of there being such a thing as ontological certainty is if we look at the world in a suitably narrow way, a way that avoid seeing the enigma which is the Big Picture. We are obliged to be ‘petty-minded on a permanent basis’, in other worlds.

What produces the illusion of this thing called ‘certainty’ is loop logic, we might say. We’re explaining nothing but we imagine that we’re absolutely nailing it – we ‘explain things tautologically’ whilst imagining that we’re uncovering fundamental truths. A believer argues that the Bible must be true because it says so in the Bible. Richard Feynman, one of the most respected theoretical physicists of the last century, gives the example of a teacher who tries to explain why apples fall from the tree by saying that this is because of something called ‘gravity’. ‘Gravity’ however is merely the name we give to the phenomenon of solid objects falling – saying that ‘gravity is what makes apples fall’ doesn’t explain anything. Naming things doesn’t mean that we know what they are…

Another way to approach the matter is to say that we engineer certainty for ourselves by making comparisons in our head – we pick one thing as ‘a standard’ and declare that this is ‘a known thing’; we then use this as a yardstick by which we can measure everything else. Everything else gets compared to this arbitrary standard of ours and in this way we create a whole world of ‘known things’ for us to feel comfortable about, secure about. This is what is referred to as ‘the Realm of Relative Truth’ in Buddhism – it’s ‘relative truth’ because it’s only true in relation to something else. It’s only true in relation to something else which we ourselves have said to be true, and this of course means that it’s not really true at all. What is true is ‘infinite relativity’, which is something we can’t actually think about. ‘Thinking is measurement’, as Krishnamurti says, and if there isn’t any reliable yardstick which we can use to measure anything by then we simply can’t ‘know’ anything. And to see first-hand that ‘we can’t know anything’ is the most singular perception we could ever have.

Science is not (and never was) about obtaining a sense of certainty about things. To achieve a sense of certainty is simply to ‘fall asleep’ – we have deliberately engineered a false perception of reality for ourselves and in this way we have succeeded in anaesthetizing ourselves! By creating a world that is made up of the same basic so-called ‘facts’ repeated over and over (repeated over and over without there ever being a break) we have produced an ontologically unchallenging situation for ourselves and this ontologically unchallenging situation puts us to sleep as surely as inhaling chloroform will. We’re ‘out for the count’, we’re ‘asleep on the job’… As Frank Herbert tells us,

Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.

The esteemed author of Dune isn’t talking about a mere ‘rejigging of what has gone before’ here (which is how we usually keep ourselves entertained) – he’s talking about experiences that are profoundly new to us and which will – therefore – change us in ways which we simply can’t foresee. He’s talking about us letting go of our old and familiar ways of seeing the world and therefore letting go of everything we thought we knew. This is what Joseph Campbell calls ‘The Hero’s Journey’ (which is a journey very few of us are willing to have anything to do with).

Embarking upon the Hero’s Journey (and leaving the playpen of consensus reality) happens to be the thing we’re most frightened of doing – letting go of everything we thought we knew (both about the world and about ourselves) turns out to be the one thing we have absolutely no interest in. We might say that we do but we absolutely don’t – the whole of society is nothing other than a massive collusion to make sure new ways of seeing the world aren’t allowed any air-time. The conservative mindset isn’t about ‘upholding important moral values’ (or whatever else we might say) – it’s about ensuring that we never actually have to grow as people. Growth, by its very nature, always involve letting go of the old – a snake can’t grow without shedding its skin. When we’re pathologically afraid to let go of the old (and make a virtue of our clinging to it) we do ourselves no favours at all. ‘Expect poison from standing water’, says William Blake. The consensus reality is standing water – instead of being orientated towards growth we are obsessed with this tired old business of ‘optimising our performance with regard to the same tired old societal games’ (making money, for example).

Growth happens as a result of being curious about the world (and reaching out towards the new) rather than being interested merely in whatever it is that our society is offering us (which is a motley collection of various types of distractions or time-wasting routines). Anything that isn’t growth is a distraction – we’re distracting ourselves from seeing that our lives are sterile, we’re distracting ourselves from seeing that all we’re ever doing is distracting ourselves… When we see first-hand that we’re living in a world that is made up of the same basic games being endlessly recycled then this is a real challenge, and like all challenges that we aren’t running away from, it will unfailingly cause us to grow, it will unfailingly result in us changing our sterile old perspective on things. Seeing that the consensus reality (which is the reality we all automatically agree on) is always going to be sterile (because it isn’t real but merely a collection of pointless games that we are striving to succeed at) will always cause us grow. Any encounter at all with the truth will cause us to grow, but the problem here (as we’ve already said) is that the truth is the one thing society can be relied upon screen out. Instead of truth, what we have are our suffocatingly banal concrete beliefs about the world, which we are very careful never to examine. The whole point of beliefs is that we mustn’t ever examine them…

We can come back to the topic of worrying (and its most extreme manifestation, which is acute anxiety) at this stage. We started off this discussion by saying that there is ‘no such thing as a method to stop worrying’ and that the reason for this is that reality is ‘quintessentially uncertain’. This doesn’t mean that it is the uncertain nature of the world that is causing us to worry (or causing us to be to suffer from clinical anxiety) – it wouldn’t be at all right to say that. What causes us to suffer from anxiety is the fact that the universe is quintessentially uncertain (or quintessentially enigmatic) whilst we are in ‘flat out denial of it’. Denying the true nature of things (and of ourselves) comes at a price and ‘anxiety that we can’t fix’ is one aspect of that price. When we say that there is a way to stop worrying (or that there is a way to stop being anxious) this is a continuation of that denial, therefore, and if we weren’t so ‘compulsively petty-minded’ we’d see this. It is the fearless seeing of this (which is to say, ‘the seeing of the Big Picture’) is what will help us, nothing else…

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