Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety


ANXIETY! Is there anything that does not cause anxiety in a world where stress at the workplace, disillusioned dreams, broken families, and minutes that fly past us are a dominant reality? Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety, skillfully proposes that hope, inspiration, and practical solutions do exist.Dispelling the myth that all anxiety is bad, Gerzon shows that anxiety can lead to self-discover and an exciting adventure. Through psychology, philosophy, and spirituality, his fundamental exploration of anxiety...
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1998 Trade paperback New. No dust jacket as issued. fantastic condition. very clean. ships day of sale or next day. Trade paperback (US). Glued binding. 352 p. Contains: ... Illustrations. Audience: General/trade. Read more Show Less

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ANXIETY! Is there anything that does not cause anxiety in a world where stress at the workplace, disillusioned dreams, broken families, and minutes that fly past us are a dominant reality? Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety, skillfully proposes that hope, inspiration, and practical solutions do exist.Dispelling the myth that all anxiety is bad, Gerzon shows that anxiety can lead to self-discover and an exciting adventure. Through psychology, philosophy, and spirituality, his fundamental exploration of anxiety reveals "Natural Anxiety," the healthy signal warning of danger or potential opportunities; "Toxic Anxiety," the dysfunctional overreaction that can lead to addition or even clinical disorders; and "Sacred Anxiety," the deepest inner yearning for meaning and oneness with our Creator. Gerzon applies vivid examples and practical techniques to avoid the pitfalls that lead to Toxic Anxiety, and allow for the exploration of Natural Anxiety and consolation of Sacred Anxiety, leading to serenity.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553379785
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/1998
  • Edition description: Reprinted Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 8.24 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

ROBERT GERZON is a psychotherapist who specialized in mind/body approaches to anxiety. He developed the "Mastering Anxiety" program, which he has presented at holistic education centers and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Plan in Boston.
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Read an Excerpt

Serenity? In today's Age of Anxiety?


True serenity may be both more necessary and more possible in today's anxious and stressful age than at any other time in history. Although anxiety is one of the most profound problems facing human beings, it also presents us with our greatest opportunity. Anxiety keeps us from being the best we can be, yet it is also the source of our greatest gifts and achievements. It can be love's greatest enemy, yet it is also the deeper path to love.

Anxiety is the shadow cast by human consciousness. Because it is a natural--even sacred--part of life, we need to learn how to become anxious about the right things in the right way, one that leads to serenity. Unfortunately, many current therapies are directed primarily toward reducing stress and anxiety. But if anxiety is life being aware of its own aliveness, then the only way to reduce our anxiety is to become less alive, to numb ourselves to life. The problem is not that we are too anxious, it is that we are not anxious enough and that we are not anxious about the right things.

Pollsters tell us that most people are more anxious about public speaking than they are about death. We become more anxious about what to wear than about how to live. We are more anxious about finding a parking place than about finding solutions to social and economic injustice. We worry more about whether our investments are growing than about whether we are growing. Yet we can learn to let anxiety lead us along the path to inner peace, a path that is available to every one of us.

Serenity is not the permanent absence of anxiety but rather an inner confidence derived from the ability tocontinually transform naturally arising anxiety into deeper trust and faith. The authentic way to master anxiety is transformative--the path of Buddha, the way of Christ, the sacred path of transmutation--changing anxiety into love, transforming anxiety into the "peace that passes understanding." Knowing how to be anxious about the right things in the right way is crucial for personal growth and for the survival of humankind.

As a child, I became aware of the mysterious relationship between love and fear (or anxiety as I prefer to call it here--later we will explore the differences between true fear and anxiety). I first observed these two primal poles of human emotion as they operated in my family and within my own heart. These dual forces are so deeply intertwined that they are almost impossible to separate. In my childhood family I could feel love as a sweet, palpable energy that bound us to each other and that motivated my immigrant parents to work hard and care for their children. Yet I also felt the harsh, corrosive force of anxiety when it divided and estranged us.

As I grew up, I began to see the powerful effect that love and anxiety had upon the world at large. Many years later I learned that, when rightly used, anxiety can also serve as a path to deeper love and inner peace. I have focused this book on anxiety, the darker pole of human consciousness, because it is both the greatest impediment to love and the most direct route to loving more fully.

As a psychotherapist and educator, my greatest joy is to help people liberate themselves from an anxiety-saturated existence--to become free and responsible creators of their own destiny. As I counseled thousands of men, women, and children over the years, I kept searching for the root cause of the problems people brought with them into my office: relationship problems, worry, insomnia, stress, depression, nervousness, lack of confidence, self-sabotaging behavior, physical illnesses, bad habits and addictions, and low self-esteem. Gradually, one factor emerged that was common to all my clients--their problems with anxiety. I began to see that a person's happiness and success in life varied directly with the ability to handle anxiety.

I am referring to anxiety not just in its limited modern psychological sense but in its broadest compass. Simply put, anxiety is the feeling that our well-being is threatened in some way. Anxiety can be provoked by everything from our primitive biological urge for self-preservation to everyday worries about money, health, and relationships to our most profound philosophical and spiritual dilemmas about death and the purpose of life. All human endeavors and inventions, including art, science, technology, government, and religion, can be understood as attempts to deal with our anxiety.

How we respond to the basic feeling of anxiety determines our character and our personality. For example, Aaron is uneasy about making a commitment to Sue because the idea of marriage fills him with anxiety. Phil and Tamara have serious relationship problems because they respond to their own anxiety in ways that exacerbate instead of calm the other person's anxiety. Larry is addicted to alcohol because he uses it to numb his anxiety. Jenny has chronic headaches and Ron has heart problems because internalizing their anxiety has taken a physical toll over the years. Maria is depressed and has low self-esteem as a result of years of dysfunctional responses to anxiety.

Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety does not skirt the mundane problems of everyday life or gloss over the harsh realities of existence. True serenity can only develop from a wholehearted acceptance of the human condition. Quite appropriately, this book was written on the front lines of the Age of Anxiety. My wife and I both work, yet we still find it difficult to meet our expenses each month. For the past sixteen years, we--including our five children and stepchildren who range in age from eight to twenty-five--have lived in a postmodern family with constantly shifting boundaries. Our spliced-together lives mean that having a child in day care, another in college, and an ailing parent in the hospital can all tumble together in a single year.

The juggling act of making time for work, family, friends, and community activities becomes ever more demanding; just when it starts to feel manageable, another ball is thrown in. For me, as for most of my clients, friends, and colleagues, the Age of Anxiety is no abstraction--it is scribbled all over our calendars and appointment books.

When I began to look at my own life, I saw that I had been dancing with anxiety since the day I was born, sometimes evading and avoiding it, sometimes attracted to it, but always interacting with it. Over the years, I became more conscious of my own anxiety and learned to use it as a guide and teacher. As a psychotherapist, I specialized in treating anxiety and found that it held the key to psychological change. From anxiety's tangled knot began to emerge three distinct yet related strands.

From medicine and psychology comes the strand first studied by Freud--the unhealthy kind that he called neurotic anxiety and that I term Toxic Anxiety. This is the type of anxiety I had experienced during my life as worry, self-doubt, panic, and even hopelessness.

In the realms of popular success literature, the human potential movement, and traditional folk wisdom, I found the healthy strand of anxiety, an emotion that could be mastered and channeled into achievement and personal fulfillment. This second type of anxiety is a normal part of the dangers, challenges, and uncertainties of everyday life, so I refer to it as Natural Anxiety. I recognize it in my own life as the realistic fears that protect me and the enlivening kind of anxiety-excitement that accompanies times of growth.

For many years, I have been fascinated with yet a third strand of anxiety that winds through all the world's philosophical and religious traditions--existentialist angst, awe, and the religious fear of God. This is anxiety on a cosmic level, a Sacred Anxiety that cannot be medicated away or channeled into material success. It is the spiritual, existential anxiety that I had become aware of as a child and never had a name for. It concerns the ultimates of life--death, life after death, and the meaning and purpose of our lives.

I realized that a lack of clarity regarding these three types was at the root of our difficulty in dealing with anxiety. Fortunately, distinguishing these three strands from each other and relating them to each other enables us to begin unraveling the riddle of anxiety. Understanding that there are actually three distinct types and that each requires a different kind of response is crucial to mastering anxiety and finding serenity. As I used this deceptively simple concept in my own life and taught it to clients and workshop participants, I found that it possessed the power to liberate people from the tyranny of anxiety.

How do we find serenity in this Age of Anxiety? Peace of mind is not a static state, not something we find once and for all. The notion that ideally we should be free of anxiety and experience some kind of permanent peace of mind may cause more anxiety than any other belief.

"Enlightenment," "salvation," and "heaven" imply an abiding serenity, yet this state comes from accepting the human condition, not from trying to transcend it. Serenity, derived from a Latin word meaning clarity, results from seeing life clearly, without our usual filters. Serenity is commonly misunderstood to be a static (even boring!) state rather than a dynamic, evolving process. Both polarities--anxiety and tranquillity, conflict and peace--are essential to growth. Anxiety accompanies the disequilibrium of change, those times when we allow new and unknown possibilities to disturb our old mindsets. Peace of mind comes when we heed anxiety's call and act to successfully integrate new growth into our wholeness. Then, as the wheel of growth continues to turn, we again experience the anxiety of the unknown.

The more we relax with anxiety and the less compulsively we strive to achieve serenity, the more the line between the two begins to blur. When we can welcome anxiety as readily as serenity, then we truly begin to experience that deeper peace that "passes understanding." Then an experience of anxiety no longer makes us anxious, but transmutes into deeper faith and greater aliveness.

Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety is my way of sharing with you what I have learned about how to become anxious about the right things in the right way--a way that can lead to serenity and an unconditional love of life. I hope this book will shine a welcome light to guide your steps and nourish your spirit.

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Table of Contents

1 The Secret of Anxiety 1
2 Natural, Toxic, and Sacred Anxiety 19
3 The Bittersweet Fruit of Consciousness 41
4 Mastering Anxiety 63
Anxiety Personality-Type Questionnaire 75
5 The Power of Inner Talk 93
6 Trapped in the Comfort Zone 113
7 The A+ Formula: Turning Anxiety into Awareness and Action 127
8 Meditation, Breathing, and Body Awareness 141
9 From Anxiety to Excitement 153
10 Changing Your Inner Worrier into an Inner Warrior 171
11 Bringing Passion to the Adventure of Life 191
12 Relationships: The Anxiety and the Ecstasy 207
13 Living in the Age of Anxiety 217
14 Cultivating the Sacred in Life 229
15 Living Between Life and Death 245
16 Sacred Anxiety: A Pathway to Our Source 263
Endnotes 279
Index 289
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