As I started writing this post, I had the feeling of what anxiety means, but the words were alluding me. It is 5am in California, afterall ;) So I decided to do a quick search. I like Wikipedia’s version so much, I’m going to include an extended definition. It is long but worth the read:
Anxiety is an emotion characterized by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil, often accompanied by nervous behavior, such as pacing back and forth, somatic complaints, and rumination. It is the subjectively unpleasant feelings of dread over anticipated events, such as the feeling of imminent death. Anxiety is not the same as fear, which is a response to a real or perceived immediate threat, whereas anxiety is the expectation of future threat. Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness and worry, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing. It is often accompanied by muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue and problems in concentration.
Fear is defined as short lived, present focused, geared towards a specific threat, and facilitating escape from threat; anxiety, on the other hand, is defined as long acting, future focused, broadly focused towards a diffuse threat, and promoting excessive caution while approaching a potential threat and interferes with constructive coping.
Basically, anxiety is focusing too much on the things you don’t want to happen in the future.
As I make this extended visit back to America from Cape Verde, I cannot stop myself from making comparisons to the lifestyle differences between the two places. I think living abroad makes these comparisons quite natural.
Even though I am privileged to have wonderful friends and family to look after me, and the means to visit various cities with great independence, soon after I arrived in LA, I felt a sense of anxiety.
If I’m honest with myself, it was a feeling of, “I don’t have enough to be here.” Pausing for a moment there, I think of the irony of this as I am directly across the street from my former home where I had a car, a truck, a motorcycle, and two bicycles. Not even considering all of the other (unneeded) stuff I had in my home, I had far more transportation options than I would ever need. But I rationalized everything with a “just in case” mentality. For example: Just in case the car was being repaired, I had the truck and so on.
In LA, I would characterize the anxiety I feel to not having enough security. But I do not take full credit for this feeling. I know that the empathic side of me feels it in the air here. Especially during the first few nights here, I had to talk myself down and realize that I was taking on energies beyond myself. Before going to sleep, I whispered “I have enough.” I repeated this until I calmed down. I wasn’t in panic mode, but my agitation was palpable. I felt that my heart rate was up a notch.
When I think of Cape Verde, I think of freedom and nature. I am fortunate to not have anxiety there characterized by feeling a lack of security. But I would say that after a few weeks of rest, I have a feeling of restlessness. Hiking, biking, reading, resting, and binge watching Netflix are all perfectly wonderful things to do, but the lack of socialization opportunities and the kind of diverse activities and cultural things (music, food, people) we have in America, I am ready to break free after a few weeks! Indeed, since I’ve lived there, I have taken a monthly trip somewhere. Maybe I have some underlying anxiety that I will be stuck there.
But feeling stuck somewhere with means is much different than wanting to stay somewhere but feeling that you won’t have enough means to do it. (I will take the former over the latter any day!) In LA, and maybe most of America, the pressure to achieve is a matter of survival. Having basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, transportation) met is so much more expensive than a place like Cape Verde. I will say that this is relative because Cape Verde can be expensive to Cape Verdeans with limited economic opportunities…BUT, shelter is possible in a shanti by the beach (weather permits this), food is possible due to ample fishing and potential for trading with farmers, and transportation is economical with shared ride minivans (and I’m sure barter is possible for transportation as well). Through my American eyes, life is simplified and feels more pure. But it would be reasonable to have anxiety in Cape Verde if one is in need of medical treatment not available on one’s island, or affording higher education (for example) coming from a place of limited economic means. In America, the costs are greater, but so too is the opportunity.
It all begs the question: What is enough?
There is a quote by Epicurus…If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires.
I think the answer lies in managing desires, increasing gratitude, and having deep faith and confidence in the limitless possibilities that exist. With this faith and confidence, we can march boldly in the direction of our dreams.
When we are locked in a pattern of limited thinking — trying to preserve what we have for fear of losing it — our vision becomes very small. We only see the immediate world around us. When I lived in a time when I couldn’t imagine selling my prized sports car, I couldn’t imagine the world of freedom that lied beyond that. So I fought to hold on to a job I didn’t want for a feeling of security that I never really had.
In Taoism, Lao tzu teaches that to be given everything, you must give up everything. When I gave up everything, I finally understood what this meant. I understood what it felt like. It felt like freedom. Without the weight of things holding you down, you can fly.
So I think the lesson here is to find peace even in the midst of anxiety. These feelings of anxiety come and go, but try not to stay attached to them. There is nothing wrong with planning as long as you don’t neglect living.
I am not sure where my next transition will take me, but I know that it will involve some combination of doing and not-doing. As such, I can see living a split life with some time in Cape Verde and some time in a city. My nomadic nature demands it. But as I work through this, I will continue to ask myself, “Do you really need that?!”; remind myself that I am blessed beyond measure and that I do have enough; and I will challenge myself to find new ways to give. We only truly get what we give away.
I wish you peace in the midst of struggle; hope in the face of desperation; and light to brighten your path and make your way clear. It’s going to be okay ;)
Photo source: Banksy