Unitarian Universalism promotes seven principles, the fourth of which is a free and responsible search for truth and meaning and the seventh of which is respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. In some ways these principles are contradictory and paradoxical. The third principle encourages us to gain greater control of ourselves and our world through increased knowledge and understanding, and the seventh principle acknowledges the mystery of belonging to something much larger than ourselves which we will never understand. In grasping for knowledge and meaning we create anxiety because at a spiritual level we become aware that we don't really know what anything means.
So many of my clients come to therapy complaining of anxiety. Their physicians have prescribed various medications and they don't seem to bring the relief desired. And so the question psychotherapists get asked is "can you help me?"
The common response to this question is to recommend a course of CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or some other form of psychotherapy which are myriad. At a spiritual level these psychological approaches miss the point and may actually do more harm than good. Adding more knowledge and techniques for managing symptoms of anxiety can be somewhat ameliorating but don't really get to the root of the problem. At a spiritual level, the client needs less knowledge not more. The client needs to rise above their worries not find better ways of managing them which paradoxically makes their worries even more prominent as a focus of attention.
The spiritual strategy for dealing with anxiety is to "turn it over to their Higher Power". As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, "Let go and let God." AA teaches the Serenity prayer, "Dear God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
Heather complained of her anxiety especially when she was trying to fall asleep at night and during the day when she was in groups of people. In exploring the factors that seemed to contribute to these feelings of anxiety and her attempts to deal with these factors we made a little progress but Heather still not have the peace and confidence she was seeking and both she and I were frustrated with her situation. Finally, I turned my frustration over to the Holy Spirit seeking guidance and I was inspired to ask Heather,"What is your interior spiritual life like?" Heather paused, seemed to look inward in a pensive way, and said, "What an interesting question." We went on to talk about her prayer life, her attempts at meditation (mindfulness), and she began to noticeably relax.
It seemed that Heather did have an interior spiritual life which had not been recognized and acknowledged before. In reflecting on her engagement with her interior spiritual life, her pervasive anxiety began to subside and she reported longer periods of peace.
It seemed to me that her recognition and acknowledgement and further engagement with her interior spiritual life allowed Heather to let go of her anxieties and trust her intuition of her inner Higher Power.
At the end of the day, when we die, we all have to learn to let go unless, as Bruce Cockburn sings in his great song, Last Night Of The World, "we all have to be pried loose." What ultimately are we afraid of? We unconsciously sense that we have cut ourselves off from our Creator and this separation creates anxiety and deep yearning we often can't clearly identify to go back home. Peace comes from remembering what we really are and in that re-membering we become one with the all which brings a peace beyond understanding.