The anxious mind fundamentally asks one question: “Is it enough?” Are my hands clean enough? asks the hand washer. Do I love my partner enough? asks the person who is struggling with relationship anxiety. Did they do enough testing? asks the health anxiety sufferer.
The presumption here is: “If it’s enough, then I will be safe. If I washed enough, I will prevent germs. If I love my partner enough, I will avoid making a mistake, which means loss. If they did enough testing, it means I’m healthy and, therefore, safe.”
For the anxious mind, the ultimate equation is: Enough = Safe. Enough = Complete. Enough = Just right.
So we chase after an ephemeral enoughness that may exist for fleeting moments in the human realm but is ultimately transitory. What we’re deeply longing for is the fullness and completeness that arise when we’re in direct contact and connection with something bigger than ourselves. This is the true safety. This is why, fundamentally, anxiety and what we call OCD are spiritual invitations, the soul’s longing for itself and connection with something bigger than itself. That is the definition of spirituality.
For modern humans, it isn’t enough, for we are devoid of the rituals, practices, and meaningful community gatherings that nourish the soul and speak its language. We feel enough when we are filled up from the inside out and the outside in: through deep connection with ourselves and regular communion with others.
There are some people – the highly sensitives and empaths – who are painfully aware of the liminality of our existence from an early age, and it often shows up as a fear of change, separation, and death. For these very special human beings, the only way to gain a foothold into the ever-changing sea of our lives is to attach onto the hooks of intrusive thoughts and/or enact rituals of compulsions.
Of course, these are misguided attempts to find certainty and anchoring, but we cannot expect individuals, especially children, to be able to name the true need embedded inside obsessions and compulsions. We, as adults, can hardly name the need, so severed are we from the needs and language of the soul. And so we suffer as children and then as parents we watch helplessly as our children find themselves in a maelstrom of anxiety.
I used to think that if we raised our children with emotional intelligence, tending to their emotional lives closely and sending the message that we welcome the full expression of their feelings, that would be enough to help them feel anchored and tethered. But I now know that it is not enough. We need nourishing and safe community. We need rituals to guide us across the thresholds of grief and transitions. We need stories and mythology to help us make sense of our human lives, of which loss and death are an intrinsic part.
But how? The need and task is too vast for us as individuals. There is a massive systemic flaw in the way we’re living, and we all know this. But what I can share is that the more we commit to the regular practices that fill our well of Self and connect us to something bigger than ourselves, the more we learn how to fill in the gaps and come closer to a sense of abiding completeness. Then, if you’re a parent, you can, as my wise friend Carrie says, become the bridge our children can walk over to get there themselves.
So when your anxious mind asks, “Is it enough” about whatever form anxiety is showing up for you, you can respond to the question within the question, the question that is coming from the soul instead of from the anxious mind that needs certainty. You can ask, “Where is it not enough? What rituals might I need to incorporate into my life so that I can forgive myself for my humanness?”
In France, OCD is called the Doubting Disease. I much prefer this way of referring to this particular presentation of anxiety because it speaks directly to the heart of what the anxiety is about: the brain’s habit of doubting as a way to mitigate the risk of living and loving, which means the risk of loss, getting hurt, and death. The anxious brain believes that if it scans the horizon – that if it checks enough – it can circumvent loss. But we know that there isn’t enough checking in the world to mitigate risk and to offer a 100% money-back guarantee of certainty.
And so we’re left with what’s embedded inside the doubt, which is an invitation to grow our capacity to trust. Just as love and fear are cousins in the pocket of the heart, so doubt and trust are sisters in the soul. This means that when we walk through fear’s door we expand our capacity to love, and when we walk through doubt’s door we expand our capacity to trust.
From what I can see, our ability to trust comes partially from our relationship to Self, but it is also derived from our relationship to something greater than ourselves. For it’s in the spiritual realm that we feel most consistently held, nourished, guided, and loved. It’s when we see through a spiritual lens that we have a direct experience of our enoughness and know that we are intrinsically worthy of love and belonging.
I recently came across a beautiful passage in one of my favorite books, The Oracle of Kabbalah, in which author Richard Seidman shares the Kabbalistic understanding of each letter in Hebrew alphabet. For the letter Shin he writes
“Shin initiates the profound word shalom. Shalom, which is one of the names for God, conveys a host of meanings, including peace, wholeness, fullness, completion, soundness, safety, health, intactness, integrity, perfection.
“Another name for God, Shaddai, begins with Shin. Shaddai comes from the Hebrew roots, shad, breast, and dai, enough. The milk from the breasts of their sheep and goats was the very sustenance of life for the nomadic Hebrews. Shaddai, as a name for God, therefore represents ancient, primal, life-giving feminine force. God is the nurturing source whose “enoughness” pervades and feeds all of life.”
Isn’t this what everyone who is prone to anxiety is searching for? Isn’t this, perhaps, what all humans are searching for? The question then becomes: How do you feel shalom? What are the ways that you feel Shaddai? Of course, this is the language of Jewish spirituality, which speaks deeply to my soul. Everyone must find their own language of the spirit, the robes that cloak you in that place of enough, fullness, completion, safety, goodness, the pathways that help you answer the question: What makes me feel nourished, fulfilled, alive, whole?
As you ponder this question, I invite you to consider the following ways that many people experience a sense of completeness and nourishment:
- When your mind is lit up from learning
- Connecting to close friends
- Deep, belly laughter
- Listening to music that touches your soul
- Meaningful rituals
- Connecting to your ancestral lineage through stories, recipes, holidays, music
- Being in reciprocal relationship with nature (to understand what I mean by that please read this post and please, please read the book Braiding Sweetgrass)
- Being of service
- Good sleep
This is the spiritual invitation embedded inside of anxiety. This is the right question to ask. From what I understand, there are no quick answers, as it’s a lifelong journey to come into deeper reciprocal relationship with source (divine, God, spirit, nature). But when we dwell in the correct question instead of chasing after anxiety’s presentation, we fill in the gaps of disconnection and step onto the paths that lead to fullness and completeness: the paths of forgiveness and self-compassion where you know that you are enough, you are whole, you belong, you’re safe, and you are loved exactly as you are.
Note: I very much value your comments as they pertain to each post and I love hearing about your insights and breakthroughs. However, if you’re struggling with relationship anxiety, I know it’s tempting to ask for reassurance or guidance, but unfortunately, I’m not able to offer advice in this format. I encourage you to read through this Collection, consider the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course, and, as always, work with a skilled and loving therapist who can be a guide and witness for your healing. If you’re struggling with other anxiety themes, please see my book, The Wisdom of Anxiety, and read through my hundreds of free blog posts on a variety of topics.