By RAY WADDLE
I cope with these anxious and overscheduled times in my own way: I’m two years behind in my magazine reading. So I didn’t get to the Atlantic article about our peculiar contemporary anxiety (November 2012) until this week.
The Gnawing Sense of Anxiety of life, according to productivity expert David Allen, happens when the mounting demands of emails, texts and daily decisions make you worry that whatever you’re doing right now is not as important as something else you should be doing.
“You’re at work worrying about home, and you’re at home worrying about work, and you’re in neither place psychologically when you’re there physically,” he says.
To this I’d add other emotional conditions that are stealing wellbeing and happiness – a sense of isolation despite our connectivity, distrust of institutions and each other, and an insomnia-inducing hunch that dark forces are taking over (previously it was communism – now it’s globalization, Ebola or ESPN).
I don’t know what it will take to reverse these intensities. But All Saints Day (Nov. 1) is upon us, reminding everyone that there are other ways to respond to the stresses of the present.
All Saints Day recognizes the witnesses and wisdom-bearers of the church story, past and present, known and unknown, official and unofficial. Robert Ellsberg, author of The Saints’ Guide to Happiness, says it’s a mistake to regard saints as stern, miserable or otherworldly. They generally had a zest for life, a capacity for sympathy and suffering, a sense of humor and beauty and vocation – whether it’s St. Vitus, patron of dancers, or St. Gereon, patron of migraines, or St. Martin de Porres, patron of racial harmony, or St. Honoratus, patron of horses.
Saints single-mindedly do what anyone might do: learn to let go and sit still, learn to see and love the world afresh and do the one necessary thing. They find a “spirit of peace and freedom in the face of obstacles and adversities,” says Ellsberg. They are “prodigies of the spiritual life.”
Even if most of humanity isn’t prodigy material, real people in their own circumstances can defy the burdened spirit of the moment. A little serenity, good will and self-forgetfulness can help. “In walking this path, worn smooth by the steps of so many other saints, we find ourselves on the way of happiness,” Ellsberg writes.
Maybe our anxieties are as impressive and unique as advertised. But I suspect they’re just the latest version of garden-variety human discontent, an old, old story. All Saints Day points to a confidence in something bigger and more enduring than an ever-demanding inbox.