It is a tiny nuisance microchip implanted deep within the hidden recesses of my brain.

It has been with me probably since before I was born, part of the dark matter of my genetic heritage.

Jesus knew of its existence and said simply,

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious. (Matthew 6:24 ESV)

But all the wise advice and all my well-intentioned efforts have never quite silenced that Anxiety Thinking Machine (ATM) that chatters incessantly inside my head.

It calculates, plans, and strategizes endlessly. It seems to believe that its job is to avoid catastrophe by thinking through every possible eventuality before it occurs. It is always on guard, always braced against some unfortunate circumstance that might destroy my equilibrium, which is a bit ironic since it’s primary function is to demolish that peace it seeks to secure.

It is an exhausting little monster that bleeps and blips, demands and spits out make-believe scenarios without ever stopping to take a breath.

It upsets my stomach, creates tension in my shoulders, and brings a clipped tone to my voice when it is particularly active. When I suffer from an acute ATM attack I am a difficult person to be around. Under the influence of the ATM, instead of the peace and steadiness I long to spread, I broadcast tension, anxiety, at times even fear. The ATM is not an ally in making good, healthy, life-giving decisions. It undermines relationships and gets in the way of my true humanity.

If I am granted a moment’s respite from its churning during the day, it is always there to wake me in the dark hours before dawn.

The ATM in my brain is not calmed by denial. It refuses to be controlled by self-discipline or the exercise of will-power. It is always there just below the surface grinding incessantly on, wasting energy, and diminishing the present moment.

In all my years of living with the ATM in my head, I have never found a completely satisfactory way to bring it to heel. But, meditation has certainly helped.

In meditation, I practice daily looking away from the ATM and all the details about which it frets. I know it is there lurking in the wings, just off centre stage, but I choose to look away. I choose to stop listening to its voice. It can natter on behind the scenes, but does not have to dominate the landscape. I may not be able to control it, but nor do I have to allow it to control me.

As my wife says, it is like the muzak in a shopping mall. It can be going on in the background without really being noticed, until some familiar jingle catches my attention and gets lodged in my brain. I then carry that tune around with me for the rest of the day, unable to shake its persistent melody.

It is tempting to think that I could make my world small enough so that I would no longer be afflicted by the incessant cackle of the ATM. But I know, that no matter how small I make my life, the ATM will always find smaller and smaller things about which to perseverate.  I understand now that I will never be totally rid of the ATM. For whatever reason, it is the background muzak of my life, my equivalent to the nasty tinnitus from which so many people suffer.

When I cease fighting against the ATM, acknowledge its existence, and accept that it appears to be my companion for life, it loses some of its disturbing agitation. Something deeper than the ATM opens inside me. Paul called this deeper dimension,

the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, which will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7).

This “peace” is the background behind the background. It exists in a dimension deeper than the muzak of the ATM. It hums away as the strong grounded presence of the Spirit at the heart of my being. I often lose touch with this reality. But, as soon as I turn back, it is there holding all my anxiety, fear and insecurity with tenderness and love. When I plumb these depths, the ATM no longer seems quite so overwhelming.