By Jim Selman | Bio
like this word. I don’t know why…perhaps because it is one of those
words that seems to express itself in speaking of it. The word means
‘anxiety’—a kind of generalized anxiety with being alive.
The existential philosophers talked a lot about angst. In fact, we
normally associate angst with existentialism—existential angst. The
word is usually associated with a negative mood such as depression or
what Thomas Merton characterized as “the dark night of the soul”. I
think that Heidegger talked about it as the inherent tension between
‘being’ and ‘non-being’. I think that angst underlies the ‘suffering’
that Buddha associated with human existence and probably is behind the
concept of ‘original sin’. Whatever its origins or deeper meanings, it
is a day-to-day practical reality for most of us in our unending quest
to ‘get it right’ and ‘be happy’.
There are lots of strategies for dealing with angst. There is, of course, self-righteousness.
Practitioners of this strategy doggedly attach themselves to some
interpretation (or dogma) of “The Truth”, usually received directly
from God. This makes it possible to give up any other questions and
reject other ideas as products of those less enlightened or less
blessed with faith.
Another common strategy is self-medication,
usually practiced with some substance or behavior that becomes so all
consuming that one doesn’t have the time or energy to pursue deep
inquiry into the nature of life. The unfortunate souls who live in
denial of their addictions follow a well-trod and predictable path
until they ‘hit bottom’ and wake up to the fact that they haven’t been
in control of whatever it is that controls them.
A strategy I employed for years was to pursue ‘understanding’.
This strategy keeps one so busy learning and reading and thinking that
you hardly have time left for living. I remember doing a self-awareness
program in the 70s that proclaimed, “Understanding is the booby prize”.
I think they were right.
There are others whom I think of as the ‘mood merchants’,
people who become very dramatic and significant about their angst. They
are tireless in their dedication to enroll others in tasting every
morsel of their despair, every fear and uncertainty, and every
self-doubt and unfulfilled desire.
While there are probably
innumerable other negative strategies for dealing with angst, there are
also several very positive ones.
First and foremost is conversation.
In speaking about one’s angst, whether with a trained professional
therapist or a good friend, one can illuminate the fact that this is
part of the human condition, and that anxiety offers us a pathway to
experience serenity. Journaling or writing is another version of this
strategy—one that has worked for many famous authors and many unknown,
but serene, closet writers.
Many people find that the practice
of regular physical activity, either alone or in combination with
verbalizing, relieves the stresses associated with anxiety. Except for
the weekend athletes and extreme overachievers (who may border on being
addicted to this strategy), most dedicate themselves to a balanced
variety of healthy disciplines such as yoga or tai chi, dietary
regimens and contemplation. Bodywork, including massage and reflexology, and self-induced relaxation techniques like meditation, self-hynopsis and biofeedback, offer additional techniques for dealing with generalized anxiety.
People who have found a larger purpose for their lives discover power and serenity through true service to others.
the final analysis, the only cure for angst is profound acceptance of
what is—choosing life on life’s terms and choosing ourselves to be
exactly the way we are. Shakespeare’s adage “To thine own Self be true”
pretty well sums it up. When we are authentic, when we don’t resist,
when we trust some ‘Higher Power’ or simply the process of life itself,
we find serenity and gratitude. And when we discover inner peace, then
angst is just a word.