brain

BY HARRY HUGGINSJanuary 26, 2015

Retreats like ReOrientation (the mid-year, four-day retreat for domestic Jesuit Volunteers) do weird things to the human brain (unscientifically speaking). We’re in a new space where time is a loose concept governed by meals, and our only responsibility is to show up with a desire to think. We spend the bulk of the day sitting in comfy chairs and thinking––hard––about ourselves. When one thinks that much, the mind becomes hyper-sensitive to all available stimuli.

It was in this state, during the “Our Father” prayer at the Saturday vigil mass at the regional JVC ReOrientation in Wisconsin, that I heard Fr. Si Hendry, S.J., say, “In Your mercy, keep us free from sin, and protect us from undue anxiety.”

The whole mass, planned by the Detroit Solanus Casey community, beautifully integrated the theme of baptism with the retreat’s reorienting nature. But that line blinked on and off in my mind throughout ReOrientation and continued to visit my thoughts the week after.

Undue anxiety.

Why not all anxiety? Why ask for protection from a limited type of anxiety, when most people would consider any anxiety undesirable? What is due anxiety?

I’m generally not an anxious person. I try to channel my maternal ancestors’ qué será, será countenance as much as possible––my community members experience this whenever I finish cooking closer to bedtime than dinnertime. So I often think that I don’t experience anxiety. Thank you, God, but you can protect someone else.

I recognized, however, that the echo in my thoughts meant that anxiety probably warranted greater consideration. Luckily, I was in the perfect setting for introspection without time limitations.

As a bookworm child, I devoured Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. One of these books contained a definition of anxiety that still rings truest to me. The passage I remember described anxiety as the intersection of nervous and excited.

So in a quiet moment the next morning, I thought about recent experiences during which I felt both nervous and excited.

I thought about applying to JVC. I was nervous: awaiting acceptance into the program, planning to leave New York City, meeting roommates who didn’t know how loudly I snore. But I was excited: finally working in direct service with the underserved, researching potential future cities, meeting roommates who didn’t know how loudly I snore.

I thought about deciding to pursue a graduate degree in social justice journalism: nervous to take the GRE, make myself vulnerable to rejection, dedicate myself to a competitive and problematic industry, but excited to put my whole self into merging my passions for social justice and writing.

I thought about re-aligning myself at my placement to better serve the formerly homeless residents: nervous to potentially incite arguments and disappoint the administrators who hired me, but excited to serve the residents to my full ability and facilitate a supportive community within the building.

Anxiety motivated me to make all these difficult decisions. One of my biggest role models taught me the phrase “go toward the roar” (reductively: if you chose the easy paths in life rather than paths that seem scary, complicated or difficult, you avoid personal growth, you ignore God’s still, small voice and you may be eaten by lions). I used that approach to understand and act through the anxiety in all three experiences.

This was clearly due anxiety. The nervous excitement propelled me into becoming a Jesuit Volunteer and advocating more for the underserved at my placement. As a future FJV, that anxiety will drive me toward a challenging and more worthwhile career path I would have otherwise avoided.

Then what is undue anxiety? I think that depends on the person and the situation. Generally, I think it’s any anxiety that, if it convinces you to change your current course, prevents personal growth. For me, anxiety about test-taking, difficult conversations, lateness and perceived appearance are probably undue in my life.

So, I ask God to protect me from those undue anxieties and perhaps reveal the due anxieties to which I remain ignorant.

Amen.

1 reply
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    eleanore t DOLPHIN says:

    So helpful to me my undue anxiety sometimes immobilized me ..sometimes facilitates personal growth. Most recently a move back to a very special place I had lived beige as a younger person stirred up lots of anxiety and personal growth. Very timely and helpful. Thanks for sharing your vulnerabilities so I can better deal with mine

    Reply

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