Your unease has a name: Zozobra
By Chris Martensen
Source: Peak Prosperity
We’re between things. It’s an uncomfortable place.
We are transitioning from an old story into a new one and that has folks feeling anxious. By “we” I mean everyone on the planet. If you find yourself with a deep sense of unease, yet unable to quite pin it down, you will find this article extremely helpful.
The old story of endless growth on a finite planet is winding down. Whatever replaces it won’t be a continuation of the past. Things are going to have to change, whether we like it or not.
Put more bluntly: the easy times are over, and a period of disruption has begun.
It may be many years or even decades before thing truly settle into a new equilibrium (of sorts – there really isn’t any such thing in this ever-changing universe). The old will fall away even before the new has arrived. That process has already begun, hence the nervousness, anger, and fear.
My day job is serving as an information scout, an ambassador of the unknown, and because of that I’m acutely aware of the degree to which people are already worn down, burnt out, and unable to process any more.
Folks are so exhausted by the trials and tribulations dished up by the crazy-making machine fondly referred to as “2020,” that many are paralyzed. Unable to take new actions because they are overwhelmed.
Yet, as I wrote recently, no choice IS a choice. When so much is changing and so much is on the line, remaining frozen with anxiety is as much a determinant of your future prospects as taking swift action – each sets one down different paths promising different outcomes.
Truthfully, there is much that can be done that will contribute to a more resilient future for yourself and for the world. But first we have to know where we are. We have to sketch out the map as best we can, even if the edges remain blanks with little more than “there be monsters” scribed at the borders.
To orient properly, you must be aware of the idea that the Age of Growth is over. We are now entering a Post-Growth era. Our task now is to settle into a very different existence – one with fewer ‘things’ and less ‘stuff’, but also offering more meaning and worthy challenges.
Like any good adventure, a little danger is involved. But nothing quite so dangerous to your soul’s journey as wasting your life on trivial pursuits.
The gap between reigns when the old king has died but the new successor has yet to be decided is called an interregnum. It can also refer to the gap between first learning of something and then finally understanding its deeper significance:
a period when normal government is suspended, especially between successive reigns or regimes.
– an interval or pause between two periods of office or other things. “the interregnum between the discovery of radioactivity and its detailed understanding”
I love this word because it perfectly matches our current state.
One feature of an interregnum, where power hangs in the balance, is that it’s a very uncertain time. Anxiety rules the day because nobody knows how things might land. It could be good for them personally, or very bad. The old king was good. His successor son is an already hated petty tyrant. Perhaps a different, better successor will somehow manage to claim the throne instead…
This sort of uncertainty is a potent source of anxiety. Which is why an interregnum is the cradle of people’s most deep-seated fears.
The old king is gone. Nobody knows who or what is in charge right now. Is it humanity’s deep technological prowess or is it Mother Nature herself?
Does our destiny lie in our own hands or have the die already been cast and we’re simply awaiting to see how unfortunate of a roll it’s going to be?
Is there still time to sort out a decent solution to our many predicaments and problems, or have those moments already been wasted?
Nobody knows at this moment. But the uncertainty is hanging thick. Corrosive. Emotional. Explosive.
Welcome to the interregnum. May the odds ever be in your favor.
Now while the above may sound depressing, as I’ve written before the better term is demoralizing, and there’s a very important distinction between the two terms.
Depression is a reaction to current circumstances. It can be treated with talk therapy to resolve an inner conflict, or temporary chemical rebalancing.
Demoralization, on the other hand, is what you experience when your cognitive map no longer aligns with the actual circumstances of life:
Rather than a depressive disorder, demoralization is a type of existential disorder associated with the breakdown of a person’s ‘cognitive map’. It is an overarching psycho-spiritual crisis in which victims feel generally disoriented and unable to locate meaning, purpose or sources of need fulfilment.
The world loses its credibility, and former beliefs and convictions dissolve into doubt, uncertainty and loss of direction.
Frustration, anger and bitterness are usual accompaniments, as well as an underlying sense of being part of a lost cause or losing battle. The label ‘existential depression’ is not appropriate since, unlike most forms of depression, demoralization is a realistic response to the circumstances impinging on the person’s life.
Did you catch that? Demoralization is actually a realistic response under certain conditions.
Those conditions are manifesting themselves now. Which means that the waves of dispiriting statistics we’re seeing are not ‘bad’; they are telling us something important.
People are right to be deeply disturbed by the ways in which the main narrative of their culture no longer maps to reality. Worse, the Endless Growth narrative is killing life on this planet and therefore harming each of us in ways both overt and subtle.
More and more people are detecting that, and that’s a good thing. Because that’s the necessary first step in crafting a new narrative and adopting a different model that hopefully serves us better.
We often say here at Peak Prosperity that if you’re feeling anxiety (or demoralization), it means that there’s a gap between what you know and what you’re doing. Since you can’t unlearn something, your best course of action is to change your behavior.
To take action to better align what you know with what you do.
I totally get the frustration, anger and bitterness on display in politics all across the West right now, but these are almost universally misdirected at the wrong targets. Whether by intent or accident, this is usually the case and heavily supported by a media system that actually promotes divisiveness over unity, and isolation over connection.
Bottom line: If you are demoralized there’s nothing wrong with you. But there is definitely something wrong with the larger situation.
If you know someone who is demoralized, don’t try to ‘fix’ them by helping them fit back into their old lives better. The problem isn’t with their ability to adapt. The problem is they are already adapting to what is coming. They’re ahead of the curve, not behind it. They just see the new curve before you do.
With that critical framing for the word demoralization, we can now go a bit deeper. But first, I want to introduce an important term relating to demoralization: Zozobra. It describes a potent sensation one might experience during an interregnum, especially if demoralization is in play.
I came across this article very recently and have now read it a few times. It’s pitch perfect.
It neatly captures the context of demoralization. By naming it we can begin to understand it, know its presence, and reduce its unconscious hold on us:
There’s a word for your overwhelming anxiety, and it’s “zozobra”
Nov 3rd, 2020
Ever had the feeling that you can’t make sense of what’s happening? One moment everything seems normal, then suddenly the frame shifts to reveal a world on fire, struggling with pandemic, recession, climate change, and political upheaval.
That’s “zozobra,” the peculiar form of anxiety that comes from being unable to settle into a single point of view, leaving you with questions like: Is it a lovely autumn day, or an alarming moment of converging historical catastrophes?
The word “zozobra” is an ordinary Spanish term for “anxiety” but with connotations that call to mind the wobbling of a ship about to capsize. The term emerged as a key concept among Mexican intellectuals in the early 20th century to describe the sense of having no stable ground and feeling out of place in the world.
This feeling of zozobra is commonly experienced by people who visit or immigrate to a foreign country: the rhythms of life, the way people interact, everything just seems “off” – unfamiliar, disorienting and vaguely alienating.
According to the philosopher Emilio Uranga (1921-1988), the telltale sign of zozobra is wobbling and toggling between perspectives, being unable to relax into a single framework to make sense of things. As Uranga describes it in his 1952 book “Analysis of Mexican Being”:
“Zozobra refers to a mode of being that incessantly oscillates between two possibilities, between two affects, without knowing which one of those to depend on … indiscriminately dismissing one extreme in favor of the other. In this to and fro the soul suffers, it feels torn and wounded.”
What makes zozobra so difficult to address is that its source is intangible. It is a soul-sickness not caused by any personal failing, nor by any of the particular events that we can point to.
Instead, it comes from cracks in the frameworks of meaning that we rely on to make sense of our world — the shared understanding of what is real and who is trustworthy, what risks we face and how to meet them, what basic decency requires of us and what ideals our nation aspires to.
What ‘cracks in the framework of meaning’ could be more profound than facing the collapse of – well – everything? Our many predicaments exist at all levels from top to bottom. There’s no safe level on which to ride out the coming storm. There’s nowhere to run. There’s only right where you are.
When everything seems “off” – unfamiliar, disorienting and vaguely alienating, then you’re in some sort of foreign land. You are out of bounds, off all of your known maps. There’s no sense of place, nowhere to settle down. Zozobra.
When everything is wobbling and up for grabs, you wouldn’t be entirely human if you weren’t experiencing some sort of emotional unease. AS with the adjustment reaction, an emotional arc is simply a part of the process. Both unavoidable and necessary.
Those who navigate uncertainty best are those who process the quickest. As always, having a good mental map, and the right terms, is helpful to that process.
If you are feeling nervous, angry or fearful – congratulations! – there’s nothing at all wrong with you. In fact, your senses are operating normally, and your cognition is on the mark. You are having an adjustment reaction, your cognitive map has a better grasp on reality than your culture, and zozobra is par for the course.
The most valuable part of naming and understanding these things is that they lose their ability to paralyze you with dread.
Our emotions are not “the truth”, but rather uncomfortable sensations that serve as an early warning system. They are like a quantum processor able to parse through massively complex systems and situations way before our cortex can offer any guidance.
There’s also a comfort – a relief – that comes from understanding that our reactions are both perfectly normal and perfectly healthy.
There’s nothing that requires treatment. Nothing that requires medication. Nothing at all to be done about any of it. Except knowing what it is, getting past whatever paralysis might exist as rapidly as possible, and then taking action.
Because you alone can’t alter the larger trends of ecological destruction, monetary printing, insane political responses, etc. and so forth, all that truly remains is for you to align your actions with what you know to be true.
And there’s so much to be done. Soils need to be rebuilt. Waste streams reformed into nutrient loops. Energy efficiency to be built into the next generation of – everything.
The lists are as endless as they are exciting. And you can play a role, both at the individual level as well as contributing positively at the collective one.
Yes, there’s a “great reset” coming. Whether it will be controlled and precise or a nature-driven chaotic mess remains to be seen.
But right now, you need to make a choice: You can either actively shape your future or wait to be shaped by it.
I’m all about controlling what I can and leaving the rest behind. Maybe you are, too.
If so, then you’re part of our tribe here at Peak Prosperity. We’re busying preparing for what is increasingly likely to consist of more macro chaos than control.
You know, to avoid being demoralized with an overwhelming sense of zozobra during this interregnum.