Thursday, February 02, 2006

School of anxiety


Does faith matter to you? Does it define your being in ways you cannot quantitatively enunciate? At the same time, do rituals seem meaningless to you? Do they give you a sense that you are in fact being irreligious (in the spiritual sense) by mindlessly following a set of actions that everyone else deems sacred? If yes, then you are in the grips of a dilemma that Kierkegaard can solve for you:

The school of anxiety is the path to true freedom, which is what remains after we have been purged of all the comforting hiding-places we automatically flee to whenever we feel insecure. Only such anxiety is "absolutely educative, because it consumes all finite ends and discovers all their deceptiveness." The curriculum of this school is possibility, "the weightiest of all categories." No matter what tragedies actually befall us, they are always far lighter than what could happen. When a person "graduates from the school of possibility,... he knows better than a child knows his ABC's that he can demand absolutely nothing of life and that the terrible, perdition, and annihilation live next door to every man". It is an exercise in awareness: dredging up all the psychic securities we have hedged around us and then "forgotten," until we found ourselves in a safe but constricted little world. Consciousness of what could happen at any moment deconstructs this comfortable cocoon by reminding us, at every moment, of our mortality; in psychotherapeutic terms, this demolishes one's unconscious power linkages or supports. "He who sank in possibility... sank absolutely, but then in turn he emerged from the depth of the abyss lighter than all the troublesome and terrible things in life." Such a person no longer fears fate, "because the anxiety within him has already fashioned fate and has taken away from him absolutely all that any fate could take away." This spiritual discipline stands in striking contrast to the sense of divine protection that is usually taken to be a secular benefit of religious faith. Kierkegaard is no less interested in faith, yet for him it does not come so cheaply. Authentic faith is not a refuge from anxiety but its fruit.

Like guilt can only be defeated by experiencing it (in some measure at all times), anxiety can be killed only by giving in to it and experiencing its aftermath, which is the real and pure essence of existence. It strips us of all our illusions and brings us face-to-face with our bare pristine souls. It helps us delve into our real selves and throw away the quasi-securities that we waste our lives on.

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