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Anxiety and the Secher Nbiw
On intuition, and how to walk the Golden Path
I am reluctant to type out the words 'I struggle with anxiety' because anxiety is something that everyone struggles with. Admitting too struggling with anxiety is similar to saying, 'I struggle with my finances/relationship/health/etc'; we all deal with it in one form or another.
Anxiety is a part of life, and yes, this is me signaling that it is something that I have struggled with too.
It is a struggle I've learned from, and so write this out to share those lessons. I speak as an authority insofar as I've found ways to take wisdom from great writers who came before me and apply it to my own life. I've learned that anxiety is the result of ignoring intuition, and intuition is a cairn leading us to our Secher Nbiw. More on that below.
In his Liber Novus, Carl Jung writes something along the lines of: To explain a thing is to take away the thing’s power. In order to take his advice when I hit a peak in my personal battle with anxiety, I decided to take away its power by understanding it more deeply.
My pursuit of deeper understanding led me to Søren Kierkegaard's The Concept of Anxiety, which taught me that anxiety is a signal for change and a product of our ability to potentiate the future. Since we are so uniquely capable of modeling the future, we can't help but compare the breadth of potential futures with the present. We can take this comparison so far it causes aperspectival madness, or stagnation.
We are also left constantly questioning ourselves as to whether we've made the right decision in a given scenario, and wondering, 'How can we get back to that better path'?
There is always a better path so long as we can model the future and dissect the past. There is an infinitesimally small pocket of freedom in the present where we can choose to orient ourselves in any of the countless directions branching ahead of us.
imagine a tall mountain. the peak comes to a point and the base is spread out over miles. now imagine a ball bearing, held directly over the highest point of this mountain, such that if it were dropped, it is equally likely that it would fall down the east face of the mountain as the south as the west as the north. so the location of the ball after dropping it could be anywhere on the face of the mountain or at the based of it, spread out over a surface area of many square miles.
We cannot escape this position. In the present, we are always the ball bearing atop the tall mountain. Therefore, because we always live in the present, we can never truly escape anxiety.
However, we can alleviate it.
Before I talk about alleviating anxiety, I need to talk about its precursor: intuition. This is because anxiety is the result of ignoring intuition.
I call intuition any kind of perception which takes place in a way that cannot be explained by the function of the senses.
— Carl Jung, Letters Volume 1
Intuition is best understood through the lens of our lives as a path, where every decision presents an opportunity to take a new path. Picture your total self as a line from birth to death. At some point along that line is a cross section that represents the present.
Splitting off from this cross section is a breadth of possible paths forward. Tim Urban illustrates this aptly here:
While the breadth of possibilities may appear infinite, these paths are not all created equal. There is a scale with which to measure the quality of outcome. There is a Secher Nbiw, or Golden Path.
The Golden Path ("Secher Nbiw" in an ancient language) was an expansive prescient interpretation that was only visible to the Kwisatz Haderach and the Bene Gesserit. It foretold the fluid events of the future, both great and small. More profoundly, however, it revealed an optimum path through the countless threads of cause and effect that were encountered by the human race.
Intuition is the pre-perception that draws you in the direction of your greatest potential path.
In this way, intuition is the catalyst for self-actualization, which is
the highest level of psychological development, where personal potential is fully realized after basic bodily and ego needs have been fulfilled.
We are constantly working to orient towards this golden path. We don't have a choice. We have to pass through time. At the same time, because of the choices we make in the present, the golden path is always a moving target.
I think of intuition as a sort of cairn. If you've ever been hiking, you may have seen a stack of rocks that would look something like this:
This is a cairn. It is a subtle guidepost that lets you know you're headed in the right direction.
Intuition keeps us on our path as subtly as a cairn does. It comes as a thought like, 'I don't know why I feel this way, but if I act in accordance with this feeling, I sense that a positive outcome will come my way.' You take the other route home, or go to the event you wanted to stay home from, or approach the individual who allures you...
Heeding intuition's call and witnessing the positive outcomes from doing so stacks more cairns on the hike down the Golden Path.
In the light of the possibilities revealed by intuition, man's earthliness is certainly a lamentable imperfection; but this very imperfection is part of his innate being, of his reality.
— Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy
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And so back to anxiety. Anxiety is the feeling we get from ignoring our cairns of intuition.
Anxiety is a signal for change, but not just any change. The reason I first needed to spell out intuition and describe the orientation towards the Golden Path is because the only change that will alleviate anxiety is the change that reorients us in the direction of this trajectory.
It is a challenge to outline generally what this may look like in detail. Everyone is on their own path. What I can say is this:
Take one step closer towards what feels like the right path, and if it continues to feel right, keep moving in that direction.
For me, this took the form of cutting out extraneous commitments that didn't align with my long term goals, clearing meetings from my calendar that didn't have a purpose, and saying no a lot more than I was saying yes. In short, my reorientation started from a place of doing lots of stopping. That's when I could start taking steps in the right direction again.
I've known since grade school that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial in the biotech space. I couldn't tell you why, especially at such a young age. My attention has always focused on biology. I've felt drawn to things happening in this space and paid attention to them as a result. At the same time, I've admired the examples of entrepreneurs in my life and in broader culture. I've witnessed my father overcome challenges as an independent agent for as long as I can remember. This taught me resilience and endurance. It also taught me how to weigh risks.
I've always felt I was uniquely positioned to act at the intersection of science and business. This was never arrogance speaking; it was, and is, my intuition.
I am able to define this passion now with knowledge of retrospect. For those without a clearly defined passion, I would add that it did not start off that way. Before my intuition defined my passion, it merely defined my curiosity. As time has gone on, I've been able to distill passions from curiosity.
Many of us start off knowing what direction we want to head and then get lost in a sea of compromises. We compromise on school because it is too expensive. We compromise on a degree because the income opportunity on the other side is too low. We compromise on a relationship because the challenges of something like long distance are too daunting. Sometimes we have to compromise the path ahead all together because of an unforeseen life circumstance.
I compromised going to a University the first time because I'd started a business. My incentives were geared towards achieving a short term financial outcome rather than achieving an outcome where I was acting in closest alignment with my total potential. After exiting the journey with that business, I mistakenly felt it was too late to go back to school, and so I ran off to Denver instead. There, I geared my time towards the pursuit of novelty in the moment. This, too, was at the expense of allocating time towards putting myself in alignment with my total potential.
Throughout those few years of my life, the subtle anxiety continued to build under the surface. Finally, I took one step in the right direction. I enrolled back in school to study biomedical engineering. I moved back to Saint Louis and settled into a scenario where I had more freedom due to a lower overhead. I fell on and off the path many more times since then. I see now that the times I oriented off the golden path, I was acting out of fear.
I still fall off the path. That is life, as they say. When I do, I've come to recognize that the time delay between the build-up of anxiety and me making the change required to relinquish that build-up has grown much shorter. This, too, is the positive feedback loop at work.
This journey never ends. The best thing we can do in the present is to do like our man Johnny Cash says: walk the line.
There was no way to know what direction I wanted to be walking in. There was no way to know what direction was forward. Hands waved and my attention was called from every angle orthogonal to the one direction that mattered most to me—the direction that I could not find. White noise started to build up in my ears. I couldn't hear the calls for my attention anymore. Thank god. The emails, the texts, the messages. F*** them all. There is nothing more vital than this emergency response that I am feeling right now. My vision went next. The adrenaline dumped into my body and all I could see was white ahead of me as my hands started to feel cold, because my sense of touch was going next. Now my heart rate is increasing. I'm getting worried. Am I dying? No, I can't be dying, but something is severely out of balance. I need to change something. I need to act now. If I don't act now, I'm going to be stuck here. Get me up. Move me forward. I can see now, I can see the path ahead. I walk towards it, and the clouds clear. My senses return, and for the briefest moment, I feel totally at peace. I'm headed that way.
Stay on the path.
Send me signal on Urbit: ~padlyn-sogrum