What's Anxiety? Can Ontological Design Help Me Understand My Anxiety?
For much of my life, I lived with a persistent, nagging sense of anxiety. I would wake up each morning with a knot in my stomach. I wasn’t quite sure exactly what would go wrong, but I was certain that something would go wrong, and that whatever it was, I might not be able to handle it. Occasionally I experienced acute fear, but more often, it was just a constant, vague sense that the world was not a safe place for me.
The field of Ontological Design has distinctions to offer about anxiety that have played a huge part in my personal learning, and in my ability to decrease my anxiety and increase the amount of peace I experience in my daily live. Here is how I have come to understand my anxiety:
What is Anxiety?:
- Anxiety is a Mood, and the moods we live in affect our experience of peace or suffering in life.
- The mood of anxiety gets served up to us because of a particular relationship we have with the phenomenon of Uncertainty.
- We are always coming up against uncertainties in the world, and we can take one of two stances with respect to uncertainty: We can either accept it, or oppose it.
- When we oppose the phenomenon of uncertainty, the mood that gets served up to us is Anxiety. The conversation of anxiety sounds something like: “The world is unpredictable, and damaging things might happen to me. Therefore, I must vigilantly watch, worry, and control in order to protect myself because I do not trust myself to handle what comes up.”
- When we accept the phenomenon of anxiety, the mood that gets served up to us is Wonder. The conversation of wonder sounds something like: “I can’t always know what the future holds, but I accept that uncertainty is a fact of life. I trust myself to handle whatever comes up, and I believe that the uncertainty of the world makes life interesting and fascinating.”
Anxiety as a Cultural Mood:
- As a Western culture today, we are experiencing more anxiety than ever before. An alarming number of Americans are prescribed anti-anxiety medications and anti-depressants, despite the fact that we live in the most affluent, and arguably secure, nation in history.
- So how can this be? One explanation is that we are experiencing rapid and accelerating changes in technology and new information, as well as a lack of job security. This has created a fast-paced society where not much is certain anymore, and nothing seems permanent.
Moving from Anxiety into Wonder:
- So how can we intervene on this cultural mood of anxiety and on our personal anxiety?
- There is no “right” answer to this question, but I can share some of the learning that has worked for me. For me, it’s all about FAITH.
- For most of my life, I have been very faithless. I am not talking about “faith” in a religious sense. I am referring to a lack of faith that the universe would take care of me and a lack faith in myself that I could handle whatever comes up. This lack of faith made me unable to accept uncertainty in the world because I believed the world was so dangerous and threatening to me.
- Instead, I am learning to change my belief system to one based on faith. It becomes easier for me to accept the fact that the world is uncertain when I begin to collect evidence that despite the phenomenon of uncertainty, the world is not an unfriendly place that is unsafe for me. In fact, I have a lot of evidence that all of my life, the universe has been taking care of me in profound ways, often in ways that I was not even aware of at the time.
- I also have a lot of evidence that I can handle anything that comes up in my life, however unexpected. After all, I’ve always handled things up ‘til now. I’ve made it here! The work for me has been to acknowledge myself for that and to declare that I trust myself to cope with uncertainty in the world.
- As with all ontological work, this is simple. That does not mean it is always easy! But, I am committed to experiencing more peace and joy in my life, and for me, that means nurturing my faith. It means cultivating an acceptance of uncertainty and a loving relationship with myself, where I have faith and trust that within me, I have all of the tools I’ll ever need to handle any uncertainty that comes my way.