I have a friend who has a nasty dis-ease and every day I see him I see the toll it takes. It depletes his spirit, it dulls his curiousity and motivations, it assails his mind with endless loops of repetitious and unchallenged thoughts, it fills his moments with creeping dread that there is nothing he can do to effect any change and that the sum of all one’s actions come to naught in the end. My friend suffers, as we all suffer, from an underlying dread, anxiety, fear of dying, fear of death, and fear of what lies beyond King’s Crossing. Existential dread. It’s universal. It’s highly contagious and manifests in various ways. My friend has been taught like you and I have been taught, that the mind is king and thinking is our salvation and logical reasoning is our ticket out. Most all of us can relate to how our western raised ego’s keep demanding answers which our western trained mind cannot provide. We have such a desperate need to know that we know so that we will be certain of ourselves – life – the future. But the mind cannot give us what we want and it spins stories and so we spin in circles and we spin together. He is my brother and I love him and I cannot save him…..but maybe he can save me?
I share this affliction and I see myself mirrored in my friends face, I see his frustration and his consternation and feel the helplessness and anxiety of my own fears and doubts. I see Mara dancing all around the skirts of the underlying anxiety of what the future may bring. The fears are universal and well known. The unknown, the lack of control, the scent of impermanence and the dizzyness that no one – no ONE knows how one’s life will unfold until it does…and then we deal. Often it is all we can do to ask that we be “granted the serenity to accept the things we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can,” and day after day we hope and pray.
Our dis-ease has a name – Nihilism – and it manifests in a persistent and often paralyzing dread and despair of the future. It can take over a persons mind – it can convince us that nihilistic thinking is the only rational and realistic way to think at all! I know this dis-ease I struggle and wrestle with it too. I think all those who spend time reflecting, pondering and exploring the inner life do. When I become lost in imagining various worst case scenerio’s of some imagined future my mind also gets stuck in planning strategies to avoid or diminish each possible outcome – it soon becomes a labor to do things in the present and my worried mind tends to block out everything that does not feed into either a way to succeed or a new way to fail. I know the dread. The doubt. The existential anxiety that nothing matters – that nothing we do counts and that it is all going to fall apart soon anyway. These are the breeding grounds of cynicism and bitterness. It is familiar to all who call themselves curmudgeons. Of all in short, who wrestle with matters of faith.