Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Keeping the Faith
Espresso depresses me.
I mean that quite literally.
I don't mean it simply makes me jittery, the way an ordinary cup of coffee might (actually, it would take two or three). I mean I am one of those people whose adenosine receptor subtype (1976T/T, I believe) causes an intense anxiety response to high doses of caffeine, with a concomitant anxiety-induced (transient) depression.
I've never had a panic attack or anything, but I've found the aftermath of a strong cup of coffee extremely uncomfortable. The other day I had an espresso-based drink and hours later found myself tossing and turning in bed with dark thoughts, irrational fears of doom, and visions of worst-case scenarios churning about in my head. This has happened before with espresso, but thank goodness not with regular coffee.
How do I deal with such dark moments, whether drug-induced or "real?"
I take a lot of deep breaths, then I try to reflect on the figurative "center" that holds me together. I turn to faith.
Let me define what I mean by "faith," since it can be so easily interpreted to mean "religion," which is not what I'm referring to right now. I believe every person has faith. Tell me you're an atheist, and I'll say you still have faith. I define faith not as a set of beliefs to which one adheres but rather as a way of seeing the world and living one's life.
When I turn to what I call my "faith," instead of trying to find answers, I return again and again to questions which have a way of restoring focus, insight, mindfulness, and peace. My favorite set of questions comes from James Fowler. In his book Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, Fowler presents the following questions he used in a workshop he was leading in Asheville, North Carolina:
What are you spending and being spent for?
What commands and receives your best time, your best energy?
What causes, dreams, goals, or institutions are you pouring out your life for?
As you live your life, what power or powers do you fear or dread?
What power or powers do you rely on and trust?
To what or whom are you committed in life and in death?
With whom or what group do you share your most sacred private hopes for your life and for the lives of those you love?
What are those most sacred hopes, those most compelling goals and purposes in your life?
Fowler wrote, "No easy set of questions. No simple game of value clarification. I congratulated myself on my cleverness in coming up with such a probing workshop opener. Then it hit me. How would I answer my own questions? My sense of cleverness passed as I embraced the impact of the questions. I had to pull my car over to the shoulder of the road and stop and for the next forty minutes (almost making myself late for the workshop) I examined the structure of my values, the pattern of my love and actions, the shape of fear and dread, and the directions of hope and friendship in my own life."
As I reflect on questions like Fowler's, I step back into a quiet spiritual space that allows me to examine the path I'm taking, my place in my own world, and see if I can be at peace with it. If I find that peace, I've also found freedom, because fear loses the place I've momentarily granted it in my life. At least, until the next time I stray off the path...!
Photo credit: Latte art by JMPerez, via Wikimedia Commons ShareAlike license.