On the question of anxiety, as on other questions, Kierkegaard inclines towards the paradoxical. Although anxiety is a problem for us, the solution is not to stop the anxiety, but to be anxious. At the end of The Concept of Anxiety, Kierkegaard writes:
‘In one of Grimm’s fairy tales there is a story of a young man who goes in search of adventure in order to learn what it is to be in anxiety… This is an adventure that every human being must go through—to learn to be anxious in order that he may not perish either by never having been in anxiety or by succumbing in anxiety. Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate.’
What is the right way to be anxious? And how can we learn it?
In the state of anxiety, we do not want to be who we are, where we are, how we are. In anxiety, we do not want to be at all. We try to deny or suppress our experience of anxiety, or else we run away from ourselves and from our anxiety. This can be done with the help of alcohol, drugs (legal or illegal), cigarettes, distraction, neurosis, or various illusions of security.
The alternative to this conditioned response of fight or flight is to be anxious: to remain in anxiety, to exist within it, to feel it fully without railing against it or seeking an escape route. In this way, the human being becomes acquainted with herself, perhaps for the first time. It’s like standing outside in a storm, feeling the rain soak through to the skin, listening to the thunder, watching the lightening flash without blinking.
Learning to be anxious in this way requires two things: courage and practice. For Kierkegaard, courage is as important a spiritual virtue as humility – in fact it is probably more important. Practicing courage in the face of anxiety can take many forms. As a Christian, Kierkegaard regarded prayer as the spiritual battlefield on which anxiety is confronted. In prayer, the struggle with anxiety uses the weapons of stillness and silence, and in other religious traditions there are practices, such as meditation, that confront anxiety in similar ways.
Likewise, Uncertain Spectator is a terrain for the confrontation with anxiety. It both stages the artists’ anxious encounters, and invites others to explore their inner experiences of spiritual flight or fight.
- Clare Carlisle