n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

— John Koenig, from his 2012 Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Loom Larger on One's Worry

“The mind is more comfortable in reckoning probabilities in terms of the relative frequency of remembered or imagined events. That can make recent and memorable events - a plane crash, a shark attack, an anthrax infection - loom larger on one's worry list than more frequent and boring events, such as the car crashes and ladder falls that get printed beneath the fold on page B14. And it can lead risk experts to speak one language and ordinary people to hear another. In hearings for a proposed nuclear waste site, an expert might present a fault tree that lays out the conceivable sequences of events by which radioactivity might escape. For example, erosion, cracks in the bedrock, accidental drilling, or improper sealing might cause the release of radioactivity into groundwater. In turn, groundwater movement, volcanic activity, or an impact of a large meteorite might cause the release of radioactive wastes into the biosphere. Each train of events can be assigned a probability, and the aggregate probability of an accident from all the causes can be estimated. When people hear these analyses, however, the are not reassured but become more fearful than ever. They hadn't realized there are so many ways for something to go wrong! They mentally tabulate the number of disaster scenarios, rather than mentally aggregating the probabilities of the disaster scenarios.” 

― Steven Pinker

I tremble

That is how I experience life, as apocalypse and cataclysm. Each day brings an increasing inability in myself to make the smallest gesture, even to imagine myself confronting clear, real situations. The presence of others - always such an unexpected event for the soul - grows daily more painful and distressing. Talking to others makes me shudder. If they show any interest in me, I flee. If they look at me, I tremble. I am constantly on the defensive. Life and other people bruise me. I can't look reality in the eye. The sun itself leaves me feeling discouraged and desolate.

― Fernando Pessoa

Live Dangerously

The secret to harvesting the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from existence is to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slope of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Live in war with your equals and with yourselves! ... The time will soon be past when it will be enough for you to live like shy deer hiding in the woods. Eventually knowledge will stretch out her hand to take what is due to her.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Endless and futile addition of zeroes

There are two kinds of sufferers in this world: those who suffer from a lack of life and those who suffer from an overabundance of life. I’ve always found myself in the second category. When you come to think of it, almost all human behavior and activity is not essentially any different from animal behavior. The most advanced technologies and craftsmanship bring us, at best, up to the super-chimpanzee level. Actually, the gap between, say, Plato or Nietzsche and the average human is greater than the gap between that chimpanzee and the average human. The realm of the real spirit, the true artist, the saint, the philosopher, is rarely achieved.

Why so few? Why is world history and evolution not stories of progress but rather this endless and futile addition of zeroes. No greater values have developed... So what are these barriers that keep people from reaching anywhere near their real potential? The answer to that can be found in another question, and that’s this: Which is the most universal human characteristic – fear or laziness?

― Louis MacKey, channeling Nietzsche

A wondrous and beauteous object

Interest there [in academic medicine] centers upon anatomical processes by which the anxiety condition comes about. We learn that the medulla oblongata is stimulated, and the patient is told that he is suffering from a neurosis of the vagal nerve. The medulla oblongata is a wondrous and beauteous object. I well remember how much time and labor I devoted to the study of it years ago. But today I must say I know of nothing less important for the psychological comprehension of anxiety than a knowledge of the nerve-paths by which the excitations travel.

- Sigmund Freud (from his General Introduction to Psychoanalysis)

Then The World Starts In On Us

“We all come into existence as a single cell, smaller than a speck of dust. Much smaller. Divide. Multiply. Add and subtract. Matter changes hands, atoms flow in and out, molecules pivot, proteins stitch together, mitochondria send out their oxidative dictates; we begin as a microscopic electrical swarm. The lungs the brain the heart. Forty weeks later, six trillion cells get crushed in the vise of our mother’s birth canal and we howl. Then the world starts in on us.” 
― Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

Eyes Wide with Fear

The pedestrian feels his heart pounding heavily when he has stepped on the curb after having been narrowly missed by a speeding taxi. The student feels an urgency to urinate before a crucial examination. Or a speaker finds his appetite strangely absent at the dinner after which he must make an important and crucial address.

Originally in the time of primitive man, these responses had a clear purpose in protecting the person from wild animals and other concrete perils. In modern society man has few direct threats; the anxiety mainly concerns such psychological states as social adequacy, alienation, competitive success, and so on. But the mechanisms for coping with threats remain the same.

These and many other physical expressions of anxiety/fear can be conveniently linked in the framework of Cannon's "flight/fight" mechanism. The heartbeat is accelerated in order to pump more blood to the muscles which will be needed in the impending struggle. The peripheral blood vessels, near the surface of the body, are contracted and the blood pressure thereby raised to maintain arterial pressure for the emergency needs. This peripheral contraction is the physiological aspect of the popular expression "blanching with fear" [in American English: "turning white with fear"]. 

The "cold sweat" occurs preparatory to the warm sweat of actual muscular activity. The body may shiver and the hairs of the body stand on end to conserve heat and protect the organism from the increased threat of cold caused by the contraction of peripheral blood vessels. Breathing is deeper or more rapid in order to ensure a plentiful supply of oxygen; This is the "pant of strong excitement." The pupils of the eyes dilate, permitting a better view of threatening dangers; hence the expression "eyes wide with fear." The liver releases sugar to provide energy for the struggle. A substance is released into the blood to effect its more rapid clotting, thus protecting the organism from the loss of blood through wounds.

As a part of placing the organism on this emergency footing, digestive activity is suspended, since all available blood is needed for the skeletal muscles. The mouth feels dry, because of a decreasing of the flow of saliva corresponding to the suspending of the flow of gastric juices in the stomach. The smooth muscles of internal genital organs are contracted. There is a tendency toward voiding of bladder and bowels - again recognized in vernacular expression - which has the obvious utilitarian function of freeing the organism for strenuous activity.

- Rollo May

The Present Situation

"Shaken on the one hand by uneasiness about the present situation and by anxiety for their existence, deceived on the other by the mockery of a brilliant future as the political demagogue depicts it, a people may give up freedom and accept virtual slavery. And it may do this in the hope of getting rid of anxiety."

- Kurt Goldstein on the "age-old pattern by which people, in ancient as well as modern countries under totalitarianism, are enslaved."

The Nature of Anxiety

The planning function of the nervous system, in the course of evolution, has culminated in the appearance of ideas, values, and pleasures - the unique manifestations of man's social living. Man, alone, can plan for the distant future and can experience the retrospective pleasures of achievement. Man, alone, can be happy. But man, alone, can be worried and anxious. Sherrington once said that posture accompanies movement as a shadow. I have come to believe that anxiety accompanies intellectual activity as its shadow and that the more we know of the nature of anxiety the more we will know of intellect.

- Howard Liddell, from "The Role of Vigilance in the Development of Animal Neurosis"


"If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in [a] sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.

'Interbeing' is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix 'inter' with the verb 'to be', we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger's father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist."

- Thích Nhất Hạnh

Ourselves as we are


“To watch the TV screen for any length of time is to learn some really frightening things about the American sense of reality. We are cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And we cannot possibly become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame, and so ugly. These images are designed not to trouble, but to reassure. They also weaken our ability to deal with the world as it is, ourselves as we are.”

―  James Baldwin