Holding on for dear life

Anxiety and fear are not the same.

If you’re walking along a cliff-top path, fear is to do with what might happen if you slip and fall. It has to do with consequence.

Anxiety is what arises from our freedom. It comes from knowing that at any time we could choose to step over the edge. Sometimes knowing this feels too much to bear. Step far enough away from the edge, hug the cliff face, and the anxiety subsides. We’ve removed a possibility for ourselves that could lead us into danger and difficulty.

Turning away from anxiety radically reduces the degree of freedom available to us. From our place of safety, face pressed against the smooth rock, there’s no chance we’ll find ourselves leaping from the edge. But there’s also no possibility we’ll see the huge vista laid out below, the distant horizon with its forests and rivers and towering mountains. No possibility we’ll begin a journey towards them. The cliff-hugger has a vanishingly small world available to them.

Whole organisations, careers and lives have been dedicated to holding on to the cliff face. Any hint of anxiety and we hold tighter, inventing the rules, structures, measures, justifications and stories that will lash us into place, and everyone else with us.

But the very anxiety we’re trying so hard to avoid is what is calling us into an enormous world of freedom. Taking up its call is our particular human heritage, and our unique human responsibility.