I have always found it tremendously frustrating that our rational minds can’t convince us that most of our fears and anxieties are nothing to be afraid of. Many of my clients express the same frustration. As philosopher Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” Sadly, this is true for many of us, and no amount of positive thinking, affirmation or even cognitive transformation will touch any but the most superficial layers of anxiety.
In my early teens, I began a search for answers to this problem. It started with the questions that all good adolescents ask: Why are we here? Who am I really? What can be done about suffering? As a young man, this inquiry took me literally around the world as I met and had exchanges with a Zoroastrian high priest in Mumbai, a Zen master in Kyoto, fire walkers in Sri Lanka, and fakirs in Bali, as well as many of the leaders in the “consciousness” movement. One of my primary takeaways was that anxiety is fundamental in the human experience … and universally so.
This really caught my interest because I recognized the constant fear, sense of threat, and hypervigilance that seemed to be required to “survive” as not only overwhelming but as a fruitless way to live. Later, I channeled this interest into a career as a psychologist and devoted myself particularly to the study of anxiety. At some point in my search, I concluded that anxiety was not just fundamental, but the single greatest source of suffering in life — more central, even, than depression.