The Need for Anxiety


The Need for Anxiety

Chandler Stevens


Anxiety is:

A sickness which attacks…precisely those who are strongest in spirit and richest in gifts.” – Herman Hesse

It’s a feature of our culture – and our species.

It’s a necessity for anyone who wishes to do creative work.

Anxiety points to a struggle taking place within the personality, a wrestling match, a dance with the destructive and constructive elements of our selves.

How do you cope?

How do you move forward toward growth in the face of anxiety?

It’s a challenge of orientation.

Anxiety is a vague, diffuse fear of not-knowing. It’s an inability to discern where the next step may take us. It leads us to cling to the familiar, to the security of habits.

Culturally we try to squash anxiety, but in doing so, we squash our own creative vitality.

The flatline emotional life of the average person is testament to that.

But when we kindle that vital spark, daring to embrace the not-yet-known potential within ourselves, we fan the flames of our human potential. However, any fire needs fuel. It burns things away.

In order to grow through anxiety we must be receptive towards the seemingly destructive and irrational. We must dismantle some of the old, familiar structures. Habits can become tyrants if left to govern us.

The Greeks embedded this in their myths time and time again.

Chronos, the titan king, ate his children to preserve his rule, knowing full well that one of them would dethrone him. It was only through the creative deception of his wife, the titan Rhea, that Zeus was left alive.

When he grew up, Zeus came back to kill his father and establish a new order of rule.

The pattern was enacted once again when Prometheus, the future-seeing titan, stole fire from the gods on behalf of man. He sacrificed himself for the progress of mankind. Zeus punished him to an eternity of captivity on Mount Caucasus, chained and bound, forced to suffer an eagle pecking out his liver day after day (which would regenerate the next day to repeat).

Creativity demands a struggle, a dismantling of the familiar structures that have ruled over us for so long – on behalf of the unknown.

Anxiety is that struggle on a psychological level.

We wrestle with the uncertainty of the unknown, knowing on some level that creative expression necessitates a departure from everything we’ve known. It requires blazing new trails and veering in varying degrees away from what has been “right” for so long. That’s the only way we explore what we have left within us.

But again, the unknown bears risk.

At times we are pinned by the familiar, gaining security through paralysis. We shrink ourselves and our world, robbing both of the creative within us.

At other times we break free from the tyranny of the familiar and establish a new balance with the world around us. It’s a harrowing act, an existential leap, a creation of a new self and new world.

It’s not for the faint of heart.

Do not squash your anxiety. And do not let it squash you.

Life is never still. It’s a mutable, changing process.

The creative individual will wrestle with the unknown until death. He may catch his breath for a few fleeting moments, but something in him impels him to continue the struggle, grappling with the biggest challenge he can handle.

Progress depends on the courage of those willing to keep the dance alive.

We all do.

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