The Concept of Anxiety

Those who are immersed in comparative religious studies or cross-civilizational studies will infer that the concept or practice of “Dasein” – which I discussed in previous blog posts – actually has Greek and Islamic roots. Contemplation about one’s existence, which is at the heart of “Dasein,” has its origins set in Greek and Islamic epistemology and culture. The Islamic equivalent of “Dasein” is known as “Khelwa,” or “Spiritual Retreat.” The ultimate results of “Khelwa” are either knowledge of divine reality (Irfan), scholarly knowledge (‘Ilm), or perhaps even a combination of both.

But as mentioned before, “Dasein” or “Khelwa” (Spiritual Retreat) carries with it a certain level of anxiety which can only be overcome through a combination of education, lifestyle changes, and personal transformation. Soren Kierkegaard, who is considered to be the pioneer of existential and phenomenological thought in the modern age, wrote an exceptional book about anxiety, titled “The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Oriented Deliberation in View of the Dogmatic Problem of Hereditary Sin.”

Kierkegaard argued that “anxiety is the last psychological state from which sin breaks out in the qualitative leap”; thus, it follows that “perfection is attained by way of sin.” First and foremost is the “annihilation of the sexual.” As Kierkegaard wrote:

“The task is of course to bring [the sexual] under the attribute of spirit (here lie all the moral problems of the erotic). Realization of this is the victory of love in a person in whom spirit has so triumphed that the sexual is forgotten and recollected only in forgetfulness. When this happens, sensuousness is transfigured in spirit and anxiety is driven out.”

After this “annihilation” or coinciding with this “annihilation” comes “disclosure,” or “transparency.” Only through “disclosure” and “transparency” can the “demonic” – which is the ultimate source of anxiety – be overcome. As Kierkegaard wrote:

“Disclosure here is the good, for disclosure is the first expression of salvation. That is why we have an old saying that if only one dare say the word, the sorcerer’s spell is broken, and that is why the somnambulist wakes up when one mentions his name.”

After “disclosure” and “transparency” is the final step, namely, certitude and inwardness. As Kierkegaard wrote: “Certitude and inwardness, which can only be reached by and exist in action, decide whether or not the individual is demonic.” With this assertion and thought, Kierkegaard makes an overarching statement about the character or zeitgeist of the times:

“I have no desire to speak in big words about the age as a whole, but anyone who has observed the present generation could hardly deny that its incongruousness, and the reason for its anxiety and unrest, is this, namely, that in one direction truth increases in scope, in quantity, partly also in abstract clarity, while in the opposite direction certitude is in constant decline.”

Nevertheless, the notion of anxiety being a transformative condition for the better is affirmed by Kierkegaard at the end of the book. Kierkegaard wrote: “Anxiety is freedom’s possibility; this anxiety alone is, through faith, absolutely formative, since it consumes all finite ends, discovers all their deceptions.”

In a nutshell, anxiety’s relation to man is such that anxiety “enters into his soul and searches out everything, and frightens the finite and petty out of him, and it leads him where he will.” Thus, anxiety paves the way for both faith and an earnest reckoning with the “infinite.” As Kierkegaard wrote: “Anyone not wanting to sink in the wretchedness of the finite is obliged in the most profound sense to struggle with the infinite.” Thus, the limits of psychology in dealing with anxiety is due to the fact that anxiety is such that “it is to be handed over to dogmatics.” The aforementioned points make up the most crucial and viable points about anxiety made by Kierkegaard in his extraordinary book.

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