The infinite well of Self-Esteem

Me and my therapist spoke in no small terms about ‘innate value’ and ‘inner dignity’. We talked about the value of self-love, how to cultivate it, how it was prerequisite for the love of another. We assumed that it was something already there, an axiom of the soul.

But I was never fully convinced that there was a source of worth inherently in us. If there was, how could my adult life be plagued with collapses of self-value? I do not believe that with enough ‘practice’ we could ‘self-love’ ourselves back into a place of worth. Nor do I believe it to be true that we need to love ourselves before we can be loved by another.

What others might call ‘inherent value’ I see in a much more nihilistic light, namely normative (or society-given) value. Nature has no inherent value but for the survival of species; cooperating or competing for life. We are no different to any other species, we are the children of nature.

If I had a font of hidden energy and self-value, why is it absent after a lifetime of searching? Perhaps my therapist was just trying to be nice!

A cursory observation of society will demonstrate that people seek to be valued by others. This may be through their position in society – how many people do you see taking pride in their work or striving to get ‘to the top’?

It may be through belonging to a community or ritual place of worship – how many towns do you know of without a church?

It may be in the form of finding a loving partner – how many people do you know who take pride in their relationships? I saw at least five couples publicly demonstrate their affections for each other on my walk through town yesterday.

It shows that we are indeed empty on the inside and in constant need of others; that it is not enough to be with ourselves. Indeed, it is precisely this need for others that drives us forward and allows society to happen. Our emptiness is our driving force and a vital part of who we are.

Despite this gaping void of emptiness and valuelessness within, there is a silver lining.

Every cloud… –

I believe it to be true that low self-esteem can create a downward spiral. The less you value yourself, the less others will value you. This prevents you from turning the tide and rising into a better place. Charity and pity does not feed esteem, nor will people lying to make you feel better. As we are dependent on those around us for esteem, we always have to factor others into our ‘equation of esteem’. This means there can be obstacles to gaining esteem –  coercive group-think and conformity, the presence of ‘alpha males’ who feed off others, prejudice against race / class / gender / and so on, the fear of crowds and groups, to name but a few. When you are low on esteem, these challenges feel insurmountable.

Yet there is nothing that can stop you developing a creative talent. On the way to work, during a lunch break, when you wake up in the middle of  the night – there is always time to develop a skill. No one can give you this talent and no one can anyone take it away. Some people might be privileged by having an earlier start but nothing can stop you from beginning your journey whenever you want.

For myself this saving grace was performance. I don’t need people to believe in me anymore to be a good performer. I don’t need people to tell me I am a skilled musician or actor. It does help to be supported, but I can get by in the hardest environment and know that I can stick it out. The development of performing talents has reached critical mass – there is no turning it back now.

This is what the article title means by an infinite well of self-esteem. It might not always feel right to perform, but when the opportunity and the will align, it is up to one person and one person alone to succeed. Myself.

This does not mean that becoming a craft should be idealized. I do believe that we need to be loved, cared for, checked-in with others, to belong, in order to be fully healthy. A course of CBT or psychotherapy solely working on self-esteem will probably be necessary to make any major gains.

However the infinite well is a factor that can always get you out of the downward spiral.

I have low self-esteem. I do not want to be around other people, so my self-esteem gets even lower. The lower it gets, the less chance anyone is going to want to be around me, so I become more isolated. The more isolated I become, the more I am depressed and therefore anxious. The anxiety prevents me from trying out new situations or talking to new people. It prevents me from taking even the smallest step forward. The lack of inner-value means that no one wants take me on, women are repulsed by the sight of weakness and neediness. Relationships are destroyed by my imbalance and vulnerability. Therefore there is never anyone there to offer a hand up and help me onto my feet.

The key to turning things around is precisely the isolation. Whilst it is not a good thing, it does allow space to develop oneself. It might be boring, emotionally harmful in the long run, repetitive, tedious – but it won’t be forever. If you can train yourself whilst in that place, even just a little bit every day, you can reach a stage where you have a powerful foundation of self-confidence and self-belief. And whats more it will be grounded in empiricism, not the platitudes of a therapist!

There is so much that can be done alone. Playing and composing music, learning how to code websites, creative writing, gardening, growing, cooking, video-blogging.

Skills that can be brought into a social context, such as playing an instrument or community cooking, are especially of value here. They enable someone with low self-esteem to have an ace up their sleeve in competitive social situations or in the predatory capitalist workplace.

Final Mentorly Wisdom –

No one can take away your creative talent, but then no one can give it to you. It is something that must be earned. It requires immense focus and patience. This is precisely what makes it worthwhile, it is truly yours. In the absence of a saviour-figure who will likely never come to rescue you, in the absence of the one-true-love who only exists in faerie tales, creative mastery is the most guaranteed way to turn the tables on low self-worth.

It is not the whole picture, because a person needs to be loved and to belong. But it is a start.

Low Self-Esteem

How much depression and anxiety comes back to low self-esteem?

A vision of the self as being a totality of worthless components.

Reaching back into personal history it is not hard to pinpoint pivotal moments that fed in to this condition.

But awareness does not seem to alter anything. Do we need other people to confirm the truth of ourselves?

The causes –

Rejection has been a constant theme of this blog – from work, from love & relationships, from social groups, from friendships, from all smanner of spaces. These doors seem closed and barred, they seldom ever register as possibilities.

Rejection does not necessarily cause low self-esteem. But what rejection can do is feed into narratives of broken esteem, confirming core-beliefs of dejection and sadness.

Whether it is one rejection or a thousand, does it make a difference? Rejection (real or perceived) sets a spark which travels down into the depths of the soul and ignites trapped feelings, negative self-views, internalized abuse and so on.

Dealing with these fundamental core inadequacies seems like the primary way forward; it is not the specific instances of failure or rejection that caused fundamental self-esteem problems, but the self-esteem problems that magnify those feelings. Or worse, the low self-esteem that seeks to confirm itself, perceiving failure and being overly harsh on the self to create a downward spiral.

Perspective –

Is a counter-point it should be noted that exile, rejection and failure are always hard. The Pythagorean cults of ancient Greece were destroyed by vengeful people who were once cast out. Exile and isolation is painful for humanity. Under no circumstances is an overly competitive framework where we must fight with each other ever going to have a happy ending for the majority of people.

It should be noted that low self-esteem is not just a problem in an individual. It is endemic to a society which exalts some people and puts other down. Is this simply the dark side of our social species?

 

Give not thyself away

Every time you reach out to someone, you give a part of yourself away. You have to hold a space for a relationship to develop. You have to take a risk which means the possibility of rejection.

Often in human-to-human interaction there is a power dynamic of giver and receiver, of actor and reactor, powerful and powerless. The one who is offering something is in a position of weakness, the other person has a position powerful enough to warrant someone else approaching them.

It is impossible to survive in this world alone, such would be a truncated existence. So we must transcend our shells and learn to interact with others. You never know when you will make a lifelong friend or start a satisfying relationship.

However, knowing when to stop is essential. And what is most important is learning the importance of keeping yourself, or not giving yourself away.

If someone is rejecting, why give them another thought? The connection can be cut away and you can regain that lost part of yourself. By undoing the initial reaching out, you cease to be rejected.

If someone is ignoring, why keep on trying with them? There are plenty of other people out there. It may make someone more mysterious if they are distant, but it is a power dynamic which is destructive to you.

It is far healthier to be discerning, to hold your dignity close to your chest. There is a balance to be struck: to be willing to try with new people but aware that it may not work.

This is the reality of human interaction. We are not all equal, nor all in equal positions. You can never fully trust someone who does not acknowledge this stark reality.

In a society of ‘words not deeds’, we are increasingly expected to trust people at face value. By what they proclaim to believe, or what they proclaim to identity as. I have learnt the hard way to look for ‘deeds before words’, to be more discerning and less trusting of others based on their surface-level bullshite. This rational cynicism has strengthened myself, and made the idealism of younger years look like the naivety it was.

To find true human connection is hard, it takes times and it takes work. But this is precisely why it is magical and worthwhile.

A hundred paths to freedom?

Imagine two scenarios.

In the first scenario Jack stands upon a plain, which reaches off into the far horizon. Leading out beneath his feet are a hundred paths. He can see nothing but the plains and the thin little roads leading off to nowhere.

In the second scenario Jack stands at the top of a commanding hill. He is at a crossroads: the path to the north leads into the forest. The path to the west leads to the mountains. The path to the east leads to the coast. The path to the south leads back to where he came upon the plains.

Who is more free?

In the first scenario Jack has a hundred potential pathways. He has a dizzying array of choice. But he knows nothing of where they lead. The paths simply lead off across the empty plains. There are no point of reference or landmarks, making his return to the crossroads all but impossible.

In the second scenario Jack has only four directions he can go. But he is stood upon a hill and can see where the paths lead. This gives him some idea of what lies ahead. He may not be a woodsman, but he knows what to expect from the forest. Trees, streams, birds, folks living in cabins, maybe a bear or two!

Despite the seeming lack of choices in the second scenario, the freedom Jack has is greater. His choices have more context and have more meaning. He can make an informed decision. And if the forest does not work out he can always back track to the hill and try a different direction.

The first scenario is more like a nightmare. It is flat and featureless. With no context to those hundred choices, Jack will have to choose one at random. This might be exciting and ‘adventurous’ at first, but it will quickly grow tiresome and anxiety-inducing.  As the paths lead nowhere, what is the difference between them? They might as well all be the same.

These are idealized scenarios, thought-experiments to get our minds thinking. But they are not merely abstract mind-games. The society of individualistic values and consumer nihilism is more like the first scenario. For instance there are hundreds of TV channels, but they are mostly awful. The promise of quality is false – advertising cuts programmes into three and wastes hours of your life each week; producers have to constantly churn out shows to meet voracious demand, so the quality is low. A hundred paths, but they all lead nowhere.

It is possible to have genuinely meaningful choices in life, but these require context and purpose. This should be our criteria of liberty – ‘meaningful liberty’. We should do away with any notion of ‘maximizing liberty’ as some indicator of moral good. It is hardly better than tyranny to live in a meaningless society.

So where do we find meaning?

Many of the things that are part of our ‘destiny’, things we do not choose, give us a massive sense of meaning. They are a context around which to build our lives. I think of my old friend, a philosopher of great ability, who sticks by Spurs FC through thick and thin.  As goes the tradition, you find the nearest football club to where you were born and then you support them. You do not ‘choose’ a team, it is given to you. Meaning and belonging is found within that context.

Likewise with your family. Your first relationships are with them. This has a massive shaping effect on your later relationships, even if you do not consciously realize how. It is a lifelong journey of discovery to work through these depths and there are no easy answers. But we do not choose our blood-family. Would we be better off if we did? Would the term family be able to maintain its meaning if we did?

And we can pull back further. The society we are born into and dependent upon, the culture that has been created for us, the first languages that we speak; these are part of our ‘destiny’, not of our choice. Yet without them we are nothing. Meaning comes when we realize that our choices effect not only ourselves, but also other people. To find meaning in society we must realize how our choices and desires are patterned by society – our dreams and aspirations do not emerge out of thin air. Knowing the sources of ideas, we can understand the forces that shaped who we are. Knowing humility, we can then create things for others as much as for ourselves; to live for others as much as we live for ourselves. Someone isolated from society, in an individualist bubble, can find no meaning. They are at the hundred empty pathways, every single one leading nowhere. Every adventurer they meet on those paths is going nowhere.

And then we can pull back even further, for society is dependent on Nature for its survival. Without the living world, we could not exist. The ultimate challenge of meaning goes beyond our lives, beyond our civilizations. It is to discover our place in nature, how our culture interacts with it, how we live sustainably within it to ensure a living world for future generations. This is our ‘destiny’.

Our deepest connection to nature is coded into us, evolving with every generation, yet continuous, leading back to some impossibly distant history which should lead us to nothing less than awe. The seasons and cycles of nature, the creatures which populate the environment around us, the plants and trees; all in incredible variety and multitude. We could not, given all the faculties of our minds, create a more enthralling landscape which can satisfy that natural urge to belong to something real and greater than us.

This is what is meant by the four paths upon the hill. The scope of choice is not so large, yet this is why those choices are comprehensible and have meaning. Where they lead is more clear, what they are is visible. Embracing our finitude and the parts of us that are determined is the key to meaningful liberty. And let us also give liberty its due, for what freedom we can have, we ought to have.

Jack shrugged his shoulders, hoisted on his pack and headed for the coast. He always wanted to try going on a fishing ship and with Spring a few weeks away, this was his chance.

Consolations of death

I have known from the age of four or so that eventually, we will all someday die. I used to fear the coming of my fifth birthday, as it brought me one step closer to that dark unknown.

There was no hiding the truth from me! But despite this precocious understanding of dying, the true fear of death did not manifest til around twenty four or so.

Now I have the ability to really feel the truth that one day I will be no more. Death is an occasion that happens to all of us and regardless of who is around us, it is the individual’s body that will let go of life.

The impact of death cannot be taken lightly. I believe that we live in a sort of necessary ignorance, that we will live forever. But sometimes it really strikes me that we won’t.

Perhaps death has the boon of encouraging better choices. If we can afford to live in its shadow.

In the dark moments where I fear and feel what it might be to die, my finite mind races to consolations, clutching in the dark for hope.

i) We do not know what happens: No matter how far scientific knowledge advances, no one can empirically die and tell us what it is like or what follows. As the bastion of science is chipped away and revealed to me to be one discipline of knowledge, rather than the discipline, I fear its conclusions much, much less. Anyone who says they know for certain what happens after you die is over-zealous.

ii) The return to the cosmos: Before coming into the world we were not as we are. After we die, we will cease to be what we are. Therefore death is a return to a previous state of ‘non-existence’. But if we could manifest from that ‘nothing’ into ‘something’ once, is it not possible that something of ‘us’ could manifest again in a different form? Or perhaps the pre-human us, if there was one, had some form of being of itself? We do not know.

iii) The cycle of life: Without something else dying it is immensely unlikely that you would have been born. What would you eat? What would the thing that you  ate have eaten? Even if we only eat plants, we are still part of a cycle of life and death, growth and decay. If my living forever prevented someone else from being brought into the world, imagine how terrible that would be. Death is part of our evolution, it allows creatures to emerge into the world and adapt anew. It is also part of our cultural evolution. Nothing is as vigourous or powerful as youth – imagine a civilization made up entirely of the elderly. Immortals would not change or adapt as well as mortals.

iv) It happens to all of us: This is a bit of a negative egalitarianism and not really much of a consolation. But everyone will have to die someday. All of the people in history, many of whom we know and love through their works, had to die. Everyone in the 18th century, for instance, is now long, long gone. Nothing can preserve itself forever in one form. Everything will go.

v) You will become a butterfly or a tree: But first you will be eaten up and shat out by a worm, vulture, fox or some such creature. Not to mention zillions of tinies. Lets not be sentimental or try to give this a happy, psychologically comfortable ending. The prospect is neither good nor bad, it just is. The knowledge of the seasons changing and things continuing on does provide some consolation. But now even this is threatened by human civilization. We can’t become ‘butterflies or trees’ if there are no butterflies or trees left.

vi) It can end suffering: For most in the world, life involves a lot of suffering. All of us will grow old and most of us infirm. Any number of unfortunate things could happen to us, no matter how well we look after ourselves. Life is so vigorous it strives to survive and we have great capacity to endure. But I would not want to age and age and age in a body that was falling apart. Death, though it is always sad, seems the lesser of two evils. I also often think of dystopias, where totalitarian governments have the potential power to torture people for an eternity, and I am grateful for the reaper.

The way the death of a loved one effects us is hard to describe. But it is powerful, so very powerful, and you never know what it is like until it happens. When it happens you may look upon that person in a different light. Even if you fought with them everyday, you might miss them, or realize how important they were to your life.

Death is so powerful. Don’t just read about it and think that will suffice. It is something you must explore yourself, think about yourself and feel for yourself. Anything less is to insult this most powerful, universal force.

 

 

Completing the Circle

Why did I keep on dreaming of a childhood home, always at night, garden overgrown like a wild jungle. Why did I keep on dreaming of the past?

It was not the past. It was the future.

The circle must be completed and every point along its line must be passed through. As sentient beings move in circles, the past is to be lived and relived, to become the future again, then the past again.

Getting stuck is extremely easy – life is hard in this age, time for reflection is scarce. Discovering the true self is not encouraged – such empowered people do not follow orders or build craven systems, so we are separated from ourselves. And even if we were encouraged to find our true selves, the journey would be a terrifying one many would not want to make.

Depression, feeling lost, isolated, purposeless, insomniac and anxious – all this comes from stopping at a point, a failure to complete the circle. No wonder it never goes away if you never try to move on! Until movement returns, the soul is truncated, growth is violently retarded, the lesson is not learned.

The soul will always rebel, it cannot be silenced for long.

You may love where you are today and love who are with today. But this may not hold true in a year, or two, or ten. Places you thought horrible may again become sanctuaries, and safe havens may become pits of boredom. People you thought safe may become dangerous, people you thought you hated may bring tears to your eyes when they pass away. Emotions that you avoided may become more relevant than you thought; the darkness you feared a guide back to the path you must return to. Things change and shift because this is the nature of life itself. There is no solid ground to stand on forever.

The circle must be completed.

Of course we cannot see into the future, nor predict what it will bring! Life is a labyrinth which must be explored and traversed, not a puzzle to be pieced together by a mind from without.

I know where my soul is calling me – back to the source.

But why would a traumatized soul want to return? Because through adult eyes it can see anew, re-evaluate events, cast off chains of dread and haunting shadows, allow healing forces to enter the soul. With adult strength it can endure past endurance, face demons and scatter them before it. Prepare itself for the next challenge – for the quest is never complete and a strictly happy ending is never achieved. But at least there is always movement and change, as the seasons do change.

There is no use lamenting, where you are is where you are. Sometimes it is necessary to go on detours, to spend years in one place, to suffer for some greater goal, or to run off and go crazy. All that matters is that the circle is completed. Forgiving ourselves for not always being perfect or doing what is best for us is essential – we are finite and mortal modes of nature, rather than the little gods we are expected to be.

My rational mind could not make sense of that obsession with the past. Why was it always night time? Why was the garden always overgrown? The subconscious (where the truth of your self and its relation with the world truly lies) knew long before the surface-mind which direction it had to go. Such dreams seemed irrelevant or historical only because the part of the mind above water, above the mist and shadows, was living only its present and not its place in the whole. It was afraid even, of that whole. And maybe rightly so, because at one point it had to be. But where will it lead now?

All you have to do is complete the circle and you can find out.

 

 

Dealing with duality

If you dare to love, you must dare to lose.

If you want to feel joy, you must also sense sorrow.

If you wish to live, you must also expect death.

 

I have just thought of the most succinct conception of ‘fantasy’ ever. Fantasy is when life is one thing and not the other. It is good without evil, love without loss, life without death, change without chaos, pleasure without pain, and so on.

Reality is double-edged. Everything that can sense pleasure can feel pain. Everything that can soar high will be pulled down by gravity, everything that grows will decay.

The rough ground of reality leaves no space for perfection. Imperfection and finitude is hard-wired into us. Sentience contains suffering, and acceptance of this is necessary for us to feel anything good at all.

The closest we can get to fantasy is a grim remedy. Either to deny our own emotions and effectively be already-dead, a being without total sentience, a truncated being of ignorance and inhumanity. Or we can forever seek to get high and stay high – a biological impossibility, the destruction of our brains and natural rhythms, a constant urge to stay awake, never dream until the body collapses.

Anxieties of perfect health, of immortal life, of endless pleasure, of freedom from chaos, of eternity and afterlife – all feed into the fantasy of a non-reality which is irresistible to use finite beings, yet must be acknowledged as harmful to the soul. We must accept the darkness as we accept the light; we must dispel our myths and fantasies as wishful thinking at best, and destructive ideals at worse.

How much we suffer depends on our expectations. The longer we expect to live perfectly happy lives, the longer we shall suffer. This does not mean giving up the struggle for better standards, denying happiness and accepting artificial suffering. Nor does it mean disengaging with the world around us.

It simply means being realistic about what is and isn’t possible. We should strive for better, but realistically so. We should enjoy moments of love and happiness but accept that they are ephemeral. We should add suffering aplenty into our equation. Fortunately this dark cloud need not depress us; we should know that suffering is the cause of solidarity, heroism and enlightenment.

Life without this struggle is beyond my conception.

 

The world is in pain, so we are in pain

The first time the Great Anxiety hit I thought I was done for. The second time, I opened myself up to it and let myself listen.

Why are you here? Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do?

We need, in the schema or narrative of our life, the illusion of control. We need to feel like there is somewhere to go, something to achieve, something to move into, something to resolve. I question, with the power of emotion and the nature of life, how true that control is.

Be healthy, be well, look after yourself – if only these things were ‘internals’ and not ‘externals’! The body gets ill, nights are sleepless, seemingly ‘random’ emotions spring upon us.

The fixation on yoga and mindfulness and healthy eating (and other such things) is a reflex which is misfiring. You can try to be healthy, but I doubt you cannot succeed. These disciplines are useful for taking the edge off life, but to seek to evade anxiety is to eventually be run down and caught by it.

I have strapped anxiety to my back and made it into a pair of dark wings!

The world is in pain, so we are in pain. There is no hiding from that fact and no resolution within just yourself. What I am, what we all are, is an ego running round and round the grooves of a vinyl record. We want the song to play forever, but it cannot. Eventually, even the best kept record will decay, a stray hand will knock the needle, the electricity will cut out. Chaos will ensue – and from chaos we will be forced to realize again that we must make a mammoth effort to heal the world-pain.

Not that even this will succeed, for the nature of life is pain and struggle. Even with all the advance of technology and civilization, we are still in pain. As of writing this, thousand of brave and colourful activists are blocking the streets of London to bring climate catastrophe and ecological collapse to the fore. They are right in doing so. But all we can do is unmake the damage caused by our ignorance – there is no pristine nature to return to, and even with biodiversity and the climate future assured we would only be taking the edge off reality.

For the very act of trying to fortify ourselves, like the very act of trying to attain perfect health, is what makes us less secure and doomed to failure respectively. The more we want a stable groove the greater the shock when chaos strikes. For the nature of the world contains sparks of chaos, chance and misfortune! Even though I think life is worth living and things will generally be manageable and worth it, chaos will strike. If you try to negate chaos and the flowing forms of the world then you will always be anxious. The perfect-health people will someday decay and die, as will we all.

We can accept that capitalism is trashing the world and has to be stopped. But we should not imagine a utopia to follow it. This is the only way to avert disappointment.

For now, the supreme pain and anxiety inside of me is here and I will let it be. My own life could be good or ill, it would not make a difference. I am not just ‘my own life’, I am the world. The deep emotions of hurt are not random, they are the background noise of reality as a living being itself.

There is no escape. Those who seem like they have escaped it with their capitalist masks will someday be injured at work, or suffer for their happy pills, or just have a good old epiphany of the doomed nature of the isolated ego. Then it will all catch up with them and hit like a tidal wave. No one is beyond it, everyone has whiskers and deeper senses, not just the ‘enlightened’

At least when we are aware of the struggle and suffering, it can be vented off at a more manageable way.

Of course I want good feelings! Love and peace and order for all. These things are as passing as the bad things. Don’t hold on too tightly and don’t try to predict what lies ahead. We also have a spark of chaos in us as the universe does and to deny that spark is to invite great misery indeed.

I believe that the crisis we are in now is a result of civilization trying to entrench itself too deeply, conquering nature so as to conquer chaos. We will all be annihilated if we keep going this way.

 

States of Being

Premise: We all perceive the same world, yet do not come to the same conclusions.

States of being can answer the question as to why some people care about the world and others do not. The fundamental anxiety which drives us to change, the evolution through crisis, is not felt equally in all people. Not even within oneself is anxiety at a constant.

For instance, think of noise pollution. A person does not have a set limit of what they can take before anxiety kicks in. At present I am extremely sensitive to noise. A man shouting in the night will make my fight or flight systems activate. At its worst extremes, mice scratching in the skirting board would have me woken up in a cold sweat! How much sound effects me is not just a matter of how loud or piercing it is, but what my current state is; how well that state can cope with the world.

It is entirely subjective how much we can take. Certain things can be done to help deal with perceived threats – mindfulness can slow down your system and lower anxiety, as can medication or natural remedies. But what can change the fact that your state of being is just deeply sensitive? What can alter you from a state of constantly feeling hurt and triggered, reliving trauma again and again, to a more stoic state where you can just survive the world? Tomorrow it might just happen. In a few hours energy might return. We can take steps towards these things, but I believe there will always be some element of mystery to the complex equation of these states.

It seems like some people are more sensitive than others. There are some, perhaps who do not feel much anxiety, who do not seem to mind too much that our species could annihilate itself. Is it because they are cut off from their own repressed emotions, and survive through ignorant numbness? Do they simply direct their negative emotions outwards onto others and thus escape extremes of their own suffering? Is their morality and core beliefs simply far lower in ambition and thus much less caring?

At the core of our characters we all have our own life-myth or narrative. Could it be that Janet X knows things are bad at the back of her mind, but the immediate life-myth of working in the system gives her the routine-strength needed to endure? I think the answer to all the last four questions is ‘yes’.

The drug of work and ignorance keeps the state of being relatively stable, relatively enduring. It is an unsatisfying, but certain, way to live.

I think that because my routine has fallen apart there is no structure to my amorphous state, so sensitivity is increased as a result. And with increased sensitivity comes increased anxiety and increased anxiety means insomnia, vulnerability, tiredness and so forth. My state of being is partially a result of this choice to engage with the darker aspects of the world. But by fully perceiving problems in the world and in the self, the ability to challenge them or triumph against them diminishes.

Perhaps it is true that the only way we can win against the destructive giant on the horizon is to keep our head behind our shield as we approach him, to sometimes ally with his slave-legions and sometimes to fight them, to cross dangerous bridges and make dark pacts with fell powers to reach our noble ends.

I am standing atop a mountain with a clear view out to the monster which destroys all that is good. I feel my feet on the stone and know of the deep roots of that mountain, all the pain and sadness that is within it, and I give those feelings expression. It is a dual-doom. No wonder my state of being is so shaken and the task seems so monumental.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I feel we need to put our head above the clouds and our feet need to become roots which delve into the earth. If we had never dared this, how would we know there is a problem to deal with in the first place? This vulnerable, sensitive state of being is the reason why I am able to know what is wrong in the first place; to truly care for myself and others. It costs the soul much energy to go to that dark place, but it also frees up trapped energy.

This anxiety is an adaptive tool of evolution, it alone is what will pull us through. Better to suffer it with the promise of transformation than to live in ignorance and folly.

The dark guide I call anxiety

Believe me anxiety, I know things are fucked up!

I don’t need you flaring up and giving me nights punctuated by restless hours, shakes and thrashing. You will anyway, its your function to always be on, but sometimes it is hammering home a point already made.

Never mind.

Anxiety will drive me forward and forward. Have you ever thought what it would mean to turn off anxiety? For me it would be to die.

My anxiety is triggered by every act of disrespect I feel. To turn it off is to stop desiring respect for myself. My anxiety is aware, at background level, that I do not own a safe place of my own; that there isn’t really one out there in the capitalist world. To turn that anxiety off would be to also turn off the values that desire safety and dignity.

Anxiety can make you appear a wreck – colour drained from the face, black-rimed weary eyes signalling nights of turmoil. But without anxiety, herald of deep dignity, we are dead anyway. I do not speak of the wrong kind of anxiety – neurotic desire for perfection, misunderstanding of human nature, denial of entropy in our bodies. I speak here of anxiety the dark guide, the eternal mentor that pushes us into better places and cracks the whip when we ‘underachieve’; the thing that makes us struggle endlessly even if it hurts us so, the thing that detects the foe in the powers that wish to drain us, the thing that never lets complacency rear its pink snout without a fight! Complacency is death!

I have spent two years doing – by most people’s standards – very little indeed. I can easily forgive myself these necessary weaknesses, feel no guilt for being inactive in the leviathan-machine. A lot of that was necessary healing time, overcoming panic disorders, a lot of working-shit-out time, a lot of incredibly fruitful endeavour. Now it is like lying in bed after the worst of the illness has passed. If I stayed here good things will still sometimes happen, life would have rays of authenticity and excitement, but less often than I would desire. This isn’t purpose, these attachments aren’t anything but insecure. Caution is wise, over caution is not.

I know that I am bending over backwards to accommodate a partially-inauthentic life. Meditation, anxiolytic oils and valerian tincture for sleep – this is like suppressing the real drive to evolve to the next stage. The things we use to cope in the wrong circumstances can keep us in the wrong circumstances if we do not see them for what they are. In the long-term, we are better off falling and trusting the world to catch us. Then we can see what we are truly made of.

For how much energy we have to cope in the world depends on what we wish to achieve. If you hide in a box room with your gran, your energy will be lessened by your situation. If you stay in the placid lake forever, your body will never need to fill you with energy, your heroism and courage will never grow. Malicious forces will grow everywhere else and eventually come for you. Safety is not the safe option – it is a slow death.

This is why therapy also had to cease. It was like an addiction, a place to be psychically cuddled by a benevolent god. It made me much more powerful, digging up vulnerabilities and learning who I was at the deepest level. But therapy was keeping me here, tied to a plane of existence I know can no longer sustain itself or me. Now I am without it I am tested, and it is always there to return to if the need calls it.

The time is coming when I must stop trying to avoid anxiety and let it do its thing. To get me into the next phase. It succeeded last time, in a jagged and messy way, a terrifying way for someone who did not know themselves. This time I predict a much smoother and mutual process. It won’t be taking me to some magic, safe-place.

I do not want to retreat the peaceful hills or some far-flung shire and live out days in tranquillity. It is not only a denial of instincts – the cut and thrust of life, competition and challenge, striving and defiance. There is simply no real safety there, even if it was an option. Such a life of retreat is a negation of our responsibility to the world and other tribes of humanity. It is like retreating to the centre of an ever-shrinking island; when it comes to your time to be swallowed by the waves there will be no one left to save you but individualistic, New Age hermits whose spiritual bypassing let the merchants of disaster destroy civilization. They will keep retreating until there is nothing left to retreat into, a final act of pay-what-you-can yoga on the final mountain of submerged earth before oblivion finds them!

No – I know security comes by stepping into the heart of power, the eye of the storm, drawing the spiritual sword on the front lines. When you know you are strong enough and ready, taking action. Going forward, daring to step into the shadow of a giant and challenging him, this is how you befriend your anxiety and ensure the safety of yourself and your tribe. This means a life of near-constant struggle, conflict, tension, wounding. This means that peace is a chapter which will always be followed by some kind of conflict. Let it be – I know that I could not have it any other way and would rather die than be domesticated and watch the world and its tribes I admire be slowly poisoned to death, scorched or drowned.

We think and feel so our energy is tried, and we can feel weak. But it is precisely because we think and feel that we have something to fight for, and our morale cannot be broken for long. We are more powerful than we think, even with this anxiety, or rather, precisely because of it. It is the herald of our dignity and everything we want to see in the world.

When we eventually win the fight to evolve from our disastrous capitalist path, anxiety will have done much to save us. But it will not turn off; we will find no permanent rest. New challenges we cannot see from our current perspective will emerge, and anxiety again shall be at our side to protect us.