March 25, 2011

Your Worry Cushion


Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.

  ~Etty Hillesum

Many of us live in a state of low-grade stress and irritation. This often tastes like anxiety or dissatisfaction. We experience this so constantly that we find ourselves at rest in cushion of worry.

Nearly every spiritual leader ministers a similar message: Rejoice in the day, give honor to this moment the blessing of life.  Certainly, this makes sense. Yes, we recognize that our very breath is a gift…but there is always something about which to worry.

Sneaking. Slithering, panting at your awareness. Rejoice, worry. Worry. Worry.

What happened to rejoice? Eaten. Gone. And even on the rare days when things are going well, no absolute attention-grabbers on the agenda, our minds still give gnarled feedback, always landing on something vexing. Always nourishing the negative stream of energy.  A few examples of this cycle:

         Yes, I know the workday is done and now I’m home but I just walked in the door and I don’t need any stress right now.

I don’t feel like going on a walk because I’ve got too much on my mind.  How are we going to sell this house/pay our tax bill/get Mom into assisted living/fix the transmission on our only car?

 I can’t sleep. People in Japan are suffering and my sister’s miscarriage is so unfair and why can’t my son stay out of trouble in school?

We all face obstacles big and small, tangible and conceptual. This is part of being alive. Challenges are constant. I remember a phase in my life when I would constantly think of any given thing that concerned me, worry about it seven ways to Sunday and the move on to the next. And the next. And then next. My big idea was that I’d mentally address each painful concern, transforming it into a mental dossier of that concern and then file it over in an neat stack: Worried About This Already.

I had the theoretic idea that this would manage each and every one and eventually I’d get down to Nothing Left to Worry About, like a big red stamp at the bottom of the pile assuring me that I’d done my due diligence. That never, ever happened. 

In fact, challenges (and their tagalong worries) blossomed into a new level as I became a parent, a homeowner and a senior employee. This little worry-coddling process was so flawed that it left me fretting about unknowns constantly; this behavior translated heavily into a low-grade irritation and stress punctuated by moments of near-panic. And the thing is, I was normal. Not angry, not sick, not mean, not intoxicated. Just a regular person with something icky simmering below the surface.  

Most moments, if not all moments, are not crises. Most moments are ones we live and learn through, if we are paying attention. But so many times we aren’t paying attention or we are focused on the wrong things, the negative dark side that we believe influences every situation. Have you ever kept yourself from getting excited about something to save yourself a disappointing letdown? Or envisioned the worst-case scenario to arm yourself with protection against not getting what you want? This is also low-grade stress and, again, it is thinking that is fundamentally flawed.  

Here’s why your worry cushion is failing you: 

ONE: It sets a haze of scarcity. The outcome, the best outcome, will arise from alignment with the situation. A stance aligned with scarcity will lean upon you like a collapsing wall. Don’t align with something you must push and strain against. 

TWO: We don’t know, we can’t know, what will happen. Even if it seems clear as a bell that only A and B can occur, you can’t be sure that C isn’t hiding in a bolt of proverbial lightning. And if you think A is Good and B is Bad what if C is so mind-blowing that you can’t recognize or don’t care about A and B anymore? Well sir, meet R and G and see what happens. Whatever you do don’t worry about R and stress about G or the universe will give you P. And P…well you just have to wait and see… 

THREE: It isn’t your job to label unknowns as good or bad. Labeling creates a huge amount of suffering.  This point really marries together one and two above. You can’t figure out, through the use of predictive worrying, what’s on that long path ahead.  Everyone would love a secure future peppered with fulfillment and love. We want to control our way on that path with worry and a tendency towards the comfort zone. We stick with what we think we know. We stick with what we’ve labeled.  I’m not the first to write this, so consider this just a reminder to turn off the translator-tabulator mind and with a deep breath say, “We’ll see…” and then, wait and see.  Get your mental self to a wide-open space and then wait, and see, some more. Breathe. Wait, pause in that space (it’s the only one you’ve really got). 

One last thing, and this is important. I know what you are thinking: How can I be prepared, if I don’t worry? You want to tell me that your car note is due each month on the 15th and unless the universe aligns you with several hundred dollars, I better bet you’re worried.  But let me remind you of this: worrying did not ever put several hundred dollars in your bank account.  It didn’t. It didn’t put on a uniform or suit or gloves and go to work and bust its butt all week. I don’t see worry sitting next to me on the commuter train. You earned it, and you always will, by taking appropriate, mindful action when you can and pausing in peace when you can’t.  And when, someday you can’t earn it you’ll meet my friend X. She’s totally out-of-this-world and who knows…. 

We’ll see. 

(And THAT will be a whole different story.)

Read 1 Comment and Reply

Read 1 comment and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Jill Barth  |  Contribution: 4,500