Krista Tippett’s fascinating podcast, On Being, interviews thinkers who have had tremendous influence in shaping society and our understanding of how the world works. Last night, I listened to the episode discussing gratitude with David Steindl-Rast, a world-renowned Benedictine monk who is known for his work on the overlap between science and religion. At the time of writing this post, his TED talk has over 6 million views.
Their conversation is all about gratitude: what it means, how to exercise it, and where it belongs in difficult and uncertain times. But it’s one short, incidental comment that really piqued my interest. A little side note about being anxious in a world full of chaos and uncertainty. Paraphrasing it would ruin the magic, so here is a direct quote:
This word [anxiety] comes from a root that means “narrowness,” and choking, and the original anxiety is our birth anxiety. We all come into this world through this very uncomfortable process of being born, unless you happen to be a cesarean baby. It’s really a life-and-death struggle for both the mother and the child. And that is the original, the prototype, of anxiety. At that time, we do it fearlessly, because fear is the resistance against this anxiety. If you go with it, it brings you into birth. If you resist it, you die in the womb. Or your mother dies.
It’s a reasonable response, and we are to acknowledge it and affirm it.
We can look back at our life, not only at our birth, but at all other spots where we got into really tight spots and suffered anxiety. Anxiety is not optional in life. It’s part of life. We come into life through anxiety. And we look at it, and remember it, and say to ourselves, we made it. We got through it. We made it. In fact, the worst anxieties and the worst tight spots in our life, often, years later, when you look back at them, reveal themselves as the beginning of something completely new, a completely new life.
And that is very difficult because anxiety has a way of paralyzing us. You see? But what really paralyzes us is fear. It’s not the anxiety, it’s the fear, because it resists. Everything hinges on […] trust in life. Trust. And with this trust, with this faith, we can go into that anxiety and say, it’s terrible, it feels awful. But […] I trust that it is just another birth into a greater fullness.
How differently will you face problems when you think of anxiety as not only natural and reasonable, but also healthy? When you realise that responding with fear or resistance only makes it worse, while acknowledging the discomfort, accepting its presence, and allowing it to drive you leads to new and exciting opportunities for growth?
Something to remember next time you’re holding up a queue in Tesco while frantically searching for your card.