Inward Tranquility Confronts Social Angst
< This was probably written just before 9/11/01
I have never read much of Jean-Paul Sartre, though I know some folks who read him passionately. I have some sense that he coined the term "angst." Angst is a feeling of dread, an aching sense that life is ultimately meaningless.
Just this evening, I had one deep pang of this dread. In an online discussion, I was asked "what is the most difficult question facing you?" I thought hard about it, but it came up with blinding force: "How can humankind reverse its thoughtless lurch towards self-destruction?"
I'm not usually given to pessimism. A few years ago, I was cured of years of depression with that notorious drug, Prozac. The way that pill rewrote my negativity was spectacular. I have traveled these past years in an almost zen-like state of inward tranquility. The stress of life might make me angry, but any outbursts were quickly retracted by an almost inexplicable "zone of bliss" radiating from a deep part of my consciousness.
Before this transformation, I was an anguished prophet, denouncing the corruption that surrounded me. I believed that in some measure my depression was a realistic response to the oppressive society in which I lived. After my healing, I still held on to a sharply critical viewpoint on social issues, but my emotional relation to these was attenuated. I simply couldn't sustain my former intensity around these issues.
And yet, the surfacing of this question of humankind's direction has stopped me short. I do believe that we are thoughtlessly exploiting our planet, its resources, and ourselves. The probability that we will face an ecological crisis within a few decades seems undeniable to me. I know that such prediction were made in the 1970's and many believe they have proven false. It seems to me that those predictions were unduly short-sighted, but nevertheless they also did prompt some attempts at restraint. The intensity of those warnings may have had the effect of delaying the inevitable.
Leaving aside the ecological crisis, at the simple level of human interaction, I still find cause for anxiety. I see a daily parade of human callousness and unfeeling behavior. My son comes home in tears from his classmates' teasing. A supervisor mistreats some of her co-workers. The news media report violence, both criminal and civil, around the world.
After years of seeking for a spiritual identity, I have chosen liberal Quakerism as the community where I belong. In Quakerism, I find a concern for ecology, a commitment to equality, and manner of life that speaks to that tranquil centeredness I find within.
But, liberal Quakers are a miniscule, though significant, tribe. So many people live without such inward tranquility and often they do not even seem to seek it. I know that inward tranquility is not sufficient for social tranquility, but it seems that such a spiritual condition would be widely present in a world at peace.
So, I come to the possibility that my inward tranquility is a gift which has a dark side, a sort of numbing effect on my social concerns. I need this tranquility and its wonderful healing power, but I also cannot let it disconnect me from the very real suffering and violence in our world.
Posted at 06:05 pm by charley63