When I get anxious I withdraw. Or maybe it’s simpler to say that only when I’m not anxious do I fully participate. There’s something small to be anxious about almost all the time. Something to be processing, holding, understanding, or accomplishing, and a need to do it “right.”
This last year has been an anxious one for me, and so one of near constant withdrawal – even as the loneliness and isolation has become a part of the problem. I have gotten a lot of things “right” this year in terms of my priorities – my kids and my marriage are pretty solid. We are happy in our day to day interactions. But something’s been missing for me, and I’ve been reflecting recently that I think it comes from too much separation. I’ve been holding back so as not to be overwhelmed, but held back so much that I’ve let go of some of the things that make life full and joyful.
I recently came across this quote from Heaven and Hell and it stood out to me:
“I have been allowed to talk with some people in the other life who had distanced themselves from the affairs of the world in order to live in devotions and sanctity, and also with some who had mortified themselves in various ways because they thought this was renouncing the world and taming the desires of the flesh. However, most of them had wound up with a gloomy kind of life from this and had distanced themselves from that life of active thoughtfulness that can be led only in the world, so they could not associate with angels. The life of angels is cheerful and blessed. It consists of worthwhile activities that are deeds of thoughtfulness….
[T]he life that leads to heaven is not one of withdrawal from the world but a life in the world, and that a life of piety apart from a life of thoughtfulness (which is possible only in the world) does not lead to heaven at all. Rather, it is a life of thoughtfulness, a life of behaving honestly and fairly in every duty, every affair, every task, from our deeper nature and therefore from a heavenly source. The source of this life is within us when we act honestly and fairly because doing so is in accord with divine laws. This life is not hard, but a life of piety apart from a life of thoughtfulness is hard. Still, this latter life leads away from heaven as surely as people believe it leads to heaven.” (535)
In a lot of ways I think this quiet year has been what I needed. I was able to meet my kids’ needs, and able to navigate the year of sleepless nights that goes with having an infant, without compromising being a (frequently) cheerful mom and wife. But I have been too much in my own thoughtfulness. Too much in my own head and not clear enough about how to be thoughtful about other people. I was feeling it already, but this passage helped me see that too much withdrawal, too much inward focused thoughtfulness is not leading me towards heaven. And it does feel hard.
As much as I have kept from being completely overwhelmed, I have not avoided anxiety and I have created new places for the anxiety to creep in as I have fewer active connections drawing me towards other people. There hasn’t been too much going on, too many cares coming in, but neither has there been excitement or inspiration.
In many ways I feel foiled in my efforts to build connections and find outlets for my energy in useful ways because of various life restrictions – my anxiety over finding just the right option not being the least. Life is messy and complicated, and for about the millionth time I’m working on getting myself to accept that and still show up and get involved, even if I don’t know what I’m doing or what I have to offer in the activities available given the various restrictions. And while I’m looking for the beauty, inspiration, and opportunity this teaching, about the fact that I don’t want a “gloomy kind of life” but rather one that is “cheerful and blessed”, has helped bring clarity about my “life in the world.”