“The act of birth is the first experience of anxiety, and thus the source and prototype of the affect of anxiety.” – Sigmund Freud, psychologist
“…I lay awake at night wondering, if you really can help other people without exploiting them…”
Nicholas was a short man about 30 years old, with a high forehead, some premature balding and lots of energy. He wore one of those loose fitting, almost sloppy sport’s jackets with his favourite hockey team monogrammed on his left chest. The team’s logo was some fierce forest animal in a human-like attack posture.
Nicholas came from a large, poor, rural, Roman Catholic family. He was one of the ‘middle kids’ as he described it. He had never married but did have a long time girlfriend, Sheila, who he lived with. What he kept coming back to in his opening remarks was how much he loved helping other people. He had a long history of contributing to his community. It took many forms over the years. He was a regular Red Cross Volunteer, he had been a volunteer firefighter for over ten years, he was a kids’ hockey coach and he was a cancer canvasser for research fund.
When I asked him what had got him to call me, he replied, The Syrian Refugees!
I asked him to explain.
He said, “Coming from a big family, everyone helped each other. And, I guess, I have never stopped doing that. But, with all the exploitation that’s been going on in the Church for so many years of children, of money and especially of trust, I lay awake at night wondering, if you really can help other people without exploiting them, as well?”
“…how does all this connect to the Syrian Refugees…”
“How much concern has it been causing you that you are missing sleep over it, Nicholas?” I asked.
“Truthfully, it is not a new concern, I have been anxious about it for some time. But, it has become such a stress for me that it’s impacting other areas of my life besides my sleep.” he replied.
‘Would you give me some examples?”
“Well…I’m increasingly doubtful of myself and my relationships with my friends and colleagues. I seem to be shying away more from offering my skills to my community. At times, I’m distracted at work, and I’m even isolating myself from my family and friends. And, my Mom recently remarked I don’t seem to be myself. It’s like it’s negating my whole sense of who I am…my very dignity.” he replied, his expression full of confusion and his eyes tears.
“It sounds like your anxiety is impacting your spirit, your energy and your being, Nicholas!”
“Yes, Ken, it really has, hasn’t it?” he said with a surprised tone to his voice.
“Did you know stress is a resistance to adapt, a resistance to learn something important, to change in some way?”
“I never heard it presented in that way before, Ken!”
“Nicholas, but how does all this connect to the Syrian Refugees you mentioned earlier?”
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” – Soren Kierkegaard, philosopher
“There is no charity or giving, without an equal taking.”
“Well, my religion has taught me to help others in need. But, my Church’s track record is so bad that I’m having a crisis of faith. I doubt, not just the truth of helping others, but also, the intentions of those helping others.” he said, confusion evident in his face and voice.
“Nicholas, did you know in nature, there is no helping another without it being connected to the survival of the helper. In other words, in nature, there is only a fair exchange at all times. There is no charity or giving, without an equal taking. Giving without receiving is a theological principle not a natural, or even an achievable end, in nature. Let me offer you an example from your own experience. I will bet you are not expecting more than you already received, not expecting further payback, for all the volunteering you have done in your life. Would that be true?” I asked him.
“I’ve always viewed volunteering as a privilege, as a way to repay my community for the ways it welcomes me to be part of it. I feel like I’ve already been paid in full for every moment, and every hour, I have volunteered.” he replied.
“Have you noticed how you have been repaid…specifically, Nicholas?”
“I get to feel valued for being me…”
“There are so many ways. I get to feel part of my community. I get to know my neighbours. I get to help people in need. I get to make new friends. I avoid boredom. And, I get to feel like I’m contributing.” he said.
“That’s quite a list Nicholas. How does getting those kind of paybacks affect how you see yourself in your life?”
“Ken, I think, that’s the most important thing! I get to feel valued for being me…it seems to impact most areas of my life…it’s really priceless!” he replied, smiling.
“So, can you see there is a fair exchange when you volunteer…it’s just that most of us don’t notice the natural fair exchange going on. We often don’t realize that it’s happening all the time. Nature’s law is that, give and take are always equilibrated at all times and all places.”
“What volunteering have you perceived as very helpful and not really hindering…?
“That would mean when I help someone, by volunteering, I also equally hinder them as well. Is that what you mean?” he asked.
“Nicholas, let’s be skeptical and check it out! What volunteering have you perceived as very helpful and not really hindering others?” I queried.
He replied, “What comes to mind immediately is being a Volunteer Firefighter. I can only see the help we provide not the hindrances.”
“Let’s take a specific example you remember, Nicholas!”
“Well…last winter we went to a chimney fire in a little bungalow. There was a family of four, a Dad, Mom and two boys, one a teen and the other in elementary school. They had been burning some cardboard in their wood stove and the chimney caught fire. It sounds like a jet plane going over your house…they were scared. But, we dealt with it fine and there was no injuries or damage. I don’t see a downside to helping those people, Ken!”
“How did they respond to your intervention?”
“I should have known better …”
“Oh! They were so appreciative. They offered us coffee and donuts, and kept thanking us, over and over again.”
“Whatever the costs were to that family, it can only be found inside each family member’s value system. So, it will be unique to each person. But, I can offer you some educated guesses. OK?”
“Sure!” he said.
“Let’s start with the Dad and Mom. Can you see the self doubt and guilt they probably felt knowing they endangered their children? Can you see the added care and attention they will need to provide to their home and family after that fire? Can you see the worry and stress they will go through as they deal with this incident?” I offered.
“Gee! I never thought about it from those perspectives before. But, I remember how apologetic and remorseful the Dad was when we were there. I remember him saying repeatedly, “I should have known better than to try to burn all that stuff!” So, there is a ring of truth to what you say.”
“For the Mom, perhaps it might have been I shouldn’t have been so preoccupied with the television…I need to keep a closer eye on the men in my life. I should have seen the danger in burning all that Christmas packaging. Do you get the idea, Nicholas?”
“Any kind of creative activity is likely to be stressful. The more anxiety, the more you feel that you are headed in the right direction. Easiness, relaxation, comfort – these are not conditions that usually accompany serious work.” – Joyce Carol Oates, author
“…we can try to ignore it, we really can’t!”
“Yes, I do, Ken! We firefighters hindered them by giving them more responsibility, and accountability, for their roles as parents and as people. After our helpful visit, they were forever hindered with more work to do as members of their family.” he responded in a thoughtful tone.
“The more we learn, the more accountable we become for that knowledge which creates more responsibilities for us. While, we can try to ignore it, we really can’t!” I said.
“This is starting to make sense, Ken! I think I have a lot of memories of one sided events, instead of two sided events, because I wasn’t looking for the other side. I have much to mull over and rethink more truthfully.”
“I think that applies to all of us, Nicholas! Can you see how this natural law applies to the Syrian Refugees you want to help, you mentioned earlier. Can you see how when you offer them help you are also expecting more from them such as leaving their friends, family, and home, adjusting to a new culture, new language, new food, new neighbours…so many new things, each with an accompanying responsibility, and accountability, which is placed on them.”
“I have heard that stuff but it never really sunk in before today. They must be so scared and insecure as we give them all this stuff…it must be overwhelming for them at times!”
“…my anxiety…been motivating me to learn what true love is really all about…”
“I think you are right, Nicholas! But, at the same time, they are being offered a future with opportunities not available to them elsewhere at this time. So, they are appreciative but still wary and confused…this is the duality of life…their life, yours and mine.”
“So, my worrying about whether I am helping or hurting them is unnecessary because I’m doing both, simultaneously…is that what’s really going on?”
“You’ve got it perfect! And, remember that’s what love is…both helping and hurting! You’re a product of that natural process which we call love. It’s how your parents raised you…that love, that helping and hurting, enabled you to learn what you needed to get you to be here today…a successful person!”
“So, my anxiety, my sleepless nights have been motivating me to learn what true love is really all about, eh? I guess I’m fortunate I did that worrying because it drove me to learn about love!” he said smiling again.
“Your anxiety is what focuses you on what you need to learn next to have a future…which is really kinda cool!” I added.
“Yes! I get it now! Thanks Ken!”
“Learning resolves anxiety while preparing us for our future.” – King Ayles, writer
Until Next time…
Now you know your anxiety is nature’s method of motivating you to learn what you need for your future. Now you know, there are a wide variety of ways people behave in response to their anxiety. But each one has the same purpose…to drive us forward in our life. So what is your form of anxiety which you have not been understanding? And, what are you supposed to learn from your form of anxiety? Find out and learn it, and then you can move on, a wiser person, to your next form of anxiety.
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Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)
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