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Transcending apprehensions

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Why anxiety is not really something to worry about

I am among those who post on Facebook a map on which I would chart the route from an airport I am at to the airport I am flying to. This time I checked into the airport and didn’t mention the destination but instead made a tongue-in-cheek comment that I was flying to Vasana Purgation, to seek a state of no-anxiety and no-worry. Surely you remember Lord Krishna’s words? Is it seeking if you are seeking a state of no-anxiety to seek things? A friend immediately asked if I still had anxieties and worry. I replied just as rapidly that instead of pretending to have no anxiety or worry, I try to understand where they come from.

We can go back in time — way before social media, TV, radio, telegraph or even print. Whatever is left for posterity from the past has come from sources that suffered anxiety and worry. Arjuna was a basket case of worry and confusion as he sought guidance from Krishna, which left us with the Bhagvad Gita. The Buddha was consumed by the human suffering that he saw all around him before concluding that suffering was an integral part of being human, but that there were skilful means to end suffering. All the philosophy, literature, prose, poetry and epic dramas emerged out of these human conditions of anxiety, worry, joy, sorrow, and melancholy.

I bet nothing may really have been left behind by people who may have really been free of all worry and anxiety. The only texts that remain are on the paths to freedom from anxiety and worry arising out of anxiety and worry. We can be sure there have been filters of some sort along the way that eliminated a lot of the oral and written words of wisdom, and we are left with whatever survived every filter. But people who were free of worry and anxiety possibly added nothing, so no filter was needed anyway.

Social media allow everybody to post round-the-clock without any real filter. Well, Facebook promises us that it will not filter fake news but it will at least warn us about them. Only we can filter it ourselves. One can stand in the digital town square all day and post whatever comes to mind. Everything is getting saved! Can you imagine what will be accumulating over the coming decades and centuries sans any filter?

Big data and machine learning dig through this garbage pile of postings to make sense. Well, at least to figure out our weak points so they can sell us the exact thing we are craving. It has been pointed out that people’s Facebook postings are not a real reflections of who they are but their Google searches are! Don’t you worry. Google is also chasing you

closer than your own shadow and is after you even when it’s dark or even while you are sleeping. Isn’t this all the digital version of suffering anxiety? The Buddha recommended Sanghas as a way to alleviate one’s anxiety and worry. Facebook just hands each of us the biggest Sangha we can imagine. Some youngsters I know have more FB friends than the total number of people I have met in my entire life! Crowd-sourcing of anxiety and worry.

But there is no reason to worry that the next Shakespeare or Valmiki is being suppressed by social media. Creativity is also crowd-sourced even though we just can’t see the forest for the trees when so many postings, I mean trees, seem to take birth and die every minute. I am certain that some great creative personalities will emerge in art, music and literature

from social media. Instant stars are born via viral postings but self-selection may be the best filter to extract the superstars of the ilk of history’s greatest.

I actually met a young PhD in Child Psychology, who worked with Facebook. Yes, Facebook has hordes of psychologists scanning all our posts to see what is bothering us. The next time I meet her, I am going to ask her how on earth she is going to reach those who are completely free of anxiety and worry. Because, surely nobody who is free of all anxiety and worry is going to get on social media, right? I suspect they will also be filtered out by history and we will have nothing left of their wisdom in the future. There are books that talk about why zebras don’t get ulcers. But I have seen no books on what philosophy zebras are using in order to avoid ulcers. Anxious zebras may be too worried about posting anything. So it will once again be the anxious human being who will have to worry about writing something interesting for posterity.

So, don’t worry about your anxiety. Just write about it. Somewhere, if not on social media. Someone else will find it interesting and post it on social media. Most of the posts are links forwarded by someone else anyway.  

I am free of anxiety and worry that social media is killing creativity. But I am not worried about all the anxieties that arise daily without any real cause. I will just keep logging them. 

ragu@essic.umd.edu

 

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 11:21:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/transcending-apprehensions/article22266948.ece

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