In Practicing Transcendence, a book I wrote encompassing my research, I discuss a way of situating ourselves within the big picture of world history. We are very good at talking about ourselves in self-help and individual-centred terms. I focus, rather, on how we find ourselves within the currents of history.
“End-of-the-world” anxiety is a major consequence of globalization. Climate change, violence, immigration: there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world. Part of the remedy is to take a few steps back in order to gain perspective of the present. In order to understand some of this anxiety it is important to begin to compare how the present is like, and unlike the past. In gaining some big-picture perspective - to be able to situate ourselves individually, and collectively in society - some of this “end-of-the-word” anxiety begins to ease.
Another aspect of the remedy featured in my book, Practicing Transcendence, is practical spirituality. For example, we have become increasingly familiar with mindfulness in popular culture. Twenty years ago, mindfulness was an unknown aspect of Buddhist meditation. Today, it has become commonplace.
Historically, Christian tradition has its own distinctive form of mindfulness: contemplation. Prayer for Christians is crucial and important. What I understand prayer to be is much more of a systemic practice of developing our spirits rather than, say, conversing with God. Part of the aim of Practicing Transcendence is to retrieve historical understanding of prayer as contemplative, which we have largely forgotten.
I have done personal research with students on contemplative prayer with one finding being that, just as with mindfulness, some clear effects of contemplative practice are stress and anxiety reduction - including reducing “end-of-the-world” anxiety. Speaking practically, contemplation clearly does have all sorts of psychological benefits.