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|Tolstoy at the time of writing War and
Peace, 1868. Image source.
While on a trip to the Penza region in 1869 to look at some land he was interested in buying, Tolstoy stopped overnight at a hotel in the Russian town of Arzamas. Despite feeling ‘perfectly well’ and tired after travelling, at two o’clock in the morning Tolstoy was gripped by an intense fear of dying and suffered a full-blown panic attack.
Tolstoy’s experience of anxiety
This experience would shake his world and his writing, and Tolstoy would set about asking himself what art truly is. From this moment, we can wave goodbye to the playfulness of Natasha Rostov and the sublimity of that “infinite sky” above Andrey on the battlefield; two of my favourite passages in War and Peace.
However, I think that these two instances preciselyencompass how we can escape anxiety and access a calmer state of mind.
By turning our attention to the world around us, we can often find meaning and bliss in the most chaotic and anxious of circumstances.
Overcoming anxiety with mindfulness
Yes! It’s all vanity, it’s all an illusion, everything except that infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing – that’s all there is. But there isn’t even that. There’s nothing but stillness and peace.
|When did you last look up at the sky? Let’s follow Tolstoy’s advice and try to be more mindful. Image source.|
Pierre’s eyes glittered with tears of rapture as he gazed up at this radiant star, which must have traced its parabola through infinite space at speeds unimaginable and now suddenly seemed to have picked its spot in the black sky and impaled itself like an arrow piercing the earth…
Books I love:
- Bartlett, Rosamund. Tolstoy: A Russian Life, 2011
- Kaufman, Andrew D. Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times, 2014
- Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Trans. Anthony Briggs, 2007