Buddhism on Worrying—& how to Eradicate it.

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My 10-day “Introduction to Buddhism” course was held in the main Gompa of Tushita Meditation Center.

One of the texts that was written on the walls inside read the following:

“If it can be remedied,
why be upset about it?
If it cannot be remedied,
what is the use of being upset about it?”

Every day, as I walked in and out of the Gompa, I stopped for a few minutes to read it. Sometimes, during class, I would turn around to read it again. Eventually, I wrote it down on my notebook—and for the next couple of months in India, I opened my notebook several times a day to read it.

This Buddhist text floored me—I found peace within its lines. To this day, whenever I worry, I remember it.

This saying permeated the greater part of the Gompa’s wall, because the topic of worrying is essential in Buddhism. According to the Buddhists, the root of worrying is ignorance.

Buddhists perceive everything in life as an illusion—which means that nothing has a concrete existence. What we see as solid and permanent is only present for the time being. Eventually—within months, years, or decades—it will cease to exist.

Since we see everything as solid and permanent, we tend to take life seriously and make a big deal out of problems. Consequently, we become attached to our life’s situations and worry about them. It is because of our ignorance that we worry about things.

Worrying means to channel all our focus on one particular object. Everything other than this object doesn’t seem important. Our objects of worry vary, and there’s no limit to what we might worry about. Our worry that we might arrive late to a meeting can be as intense as worrying about not surviving a disease.

Buddhists reckon that we worry because we need a definite answer. Human beings have an inexpiable fear of uncertainty. Unpredictability brings us discomfort. This is why we need “the known” to make us relaxed. Our minds like to fixate on this known thing, because vagueness is disturbing and might put our future at stake.

The need to change the past or the future prompts us to worry and to develop anxiety without paying attention. We might disagree and claim that we know that changing the past or the future is impossible. But if we investigate the deeply rooted reason of worrying, we’d find out that we attempt to change something through worrying. The truth is, if we’d realize that we don’t have a hand in changing what passed or what’s yet to come, we wouldn’t waste time on overthinking stuff.

In Buddhism, this whole worrying issue is not an intrinsic part of the mind. Although it appears to be quite realistic, it’s not. Worrying is our own doing. Personally, it took me a long time to understand that the past (and the future) are only kept alive in my own mind. I keep them alive through thinking about them—so worrying is not an outside factor affecting us. It’s an inside action that’s affecting our life and is becoming a hindrance to our comfort.

To stop worrying is arduous, but it’s not impossible. If we adopt a few notions on worrying from the Buddhists, an astounding change can take place.

Below are five Buddhist solutions on how to eradicate worrying.

1. Understand that we have a monkey mind. A monkey mind is like monkeys and trees—it jumps from one thought to another incessantly. It often stops at certain thoughts before it jumps to another thought. This stop is what we call “worry.” When we worry, we should know that worrying is a natural part of the thoughts process, but it requires awareness to stop it.

2. Step back and look at the bigger picture. I like to compare worrying to a plant. The more we water it, the more it grows. Worrying can drag us in—the more we worry, the more the situation becomes disturbing. A valuable solution is to take ourselves out of the situation and look at it from a different angle. See it objectively from an altered lens. When you do so, you’ll realize that the problem doesn’t require much worry.

3. Know that worrying won’t help in any way. Worrying can’t solve any problem. There’s a quote in the “wear sunscreen” speech that says: “worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.” Remember all the times you worried in the past and try to investigate if your worry has helped in any way. Reflect the result on your present moment to see that worrying is only a waste of mental energy.

4. You’re not in control of everything. The reason why we worry is because we need to feel a sense of control over things. We hope to control the outcome, so we won’t have to face unwanted results. Know that what’s meant to happen will fall into place. Uncertainty isn’t terrifying. Befriend it and know it is a natural, smooth energy that only brings us the best.

5. Focus on the present. How we deal with our present determines our past and our future. That said, we can use our present moment to focus on what’s happening “now.” When we practice mindfulness, we actually help with the realization of things falling into place. Things flow easier when we don’t push them to happen.

 

~

Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Flickr/Keoni Cabral

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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Elyane Youssef

Elyane S. Youssef is an extraterrestrial who was given birth by Earthlings. While living on planet Earth, she fell in love with art, books, nature, writing, photography, traveling, and…pizza. Elyane finds her joy in backpacking and bonding with locals. To see the faces she interacts with on her travels, you can follow Face of the World on Instagram. Besides getting on and off planes, she is in a serious relationship with words and hopes to inspire as many people as possible through them. Once her mission is accomplished on Earth, she will return to her planet to rejoin her extraterrestrial brothers and sisters. In case you’re wondering, yes, she is still willingly obsessed with Frida Kahlo. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You can also check out her macrame art on Instagram.

Dee Wagner May 17, 2017 2:14pm

Beautiful but... First, let me say again, this is beautiful—a beautiful message beautifully said! AND, may I go a little deeper. Our monkey minds chatter because they are designed to look for danger and solutions. That is useful if we can get the monkeys out of the trees. If we ground our worry into the earth, it can rock us as we consider our options...on the one hand...on the other hand...and then, in the rocking we can more and more feel gravity holding us to the earth. When we "worry" a knot, we roll it between our fingers to see if it will loosen. As a dance therapist, I know that back and forth movement helps us. Rocking slowly and becoming more mindful of gravity in the process seems to help us find "the wisdom to know the difference," which is the third part of the Serenity Prayer shared in this thread by Valerie. The quote at the beginning of your beautiful article, Elyane, says not to be upset, like a table is upset when it is knocked on it's side. Instead of letting life send us scurrying in the trees monkey-calling or knock us on our sides like an upset table, we can learn to groundedly move back and forth or side to side, to practice the healthy, gounded-monkey way to worry. :)

Robin Shatsky Grande May 17, 2017 12:05pm

As a long time worrier and student on the path...thank you for reinforcing the dharma in a very clear way.

Hilary Easton May 17, 2017 8:18am

Monika Evans having said that, of course, once you have made your decision and done the deed you have to let it go!

Svenja Di May 16, 2017 6:26pm

As an extensive-worrier, I gotta print this and hang it up on my wall. Thank you, beautifully written!

Monika Evans May 16, 2017 6:16pm

I totally agree with you Hilary Easton. It seems easy to make the decision between can I control and can I not control. The hard decisions that worry me are those where my decision will have enormous effect on my future and I worry making the wrong one. That is not about what can or cannot be remedied....

Hilary Easton May 16, 2017 5:49pm

Good point!

Hilary Easton May 16, 2017 5:48pm

It all sounds really easy but the truth is, when you are in a difficult position you often don't know what can be changed and what can't until you have tried. 'Wisdom' is not enough. You often don't know whether your interventions will improve the outcome or not. You have to make a decision. There are negative kinds of worrying, of course, but there is also that you might need to take time to think very hard about the situation, run through many scenarios in your mind, try to consider all the angles and make a good decision. 'Focusing on the present' in order to avoid facing up to the issues in your life is a Buddhist drug of choice. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to stay with a real problem and think it through, it's painful! But we are not here to escape from pain. It may be tempting to simply fall into a cloud of vague serenity when you know it is actually very important that you make the right decision, and that the outcome of your actions could have long-term effects for both yourself and others. Of course you can't control everything but you have to put your little oar into the water and paddle your little boat. Trying to mentally escape from problems is not the answer. Paradoxically, when you really really look into a situation fearlessly, or with great fear, you can find the deeper serenity that comes when you know you have tried your utmost to find the best solution and however the situation turns out you will always remember that and it will be a comfort. I say worry if you need to. Don't reject any state of mind. Be with yourself and your problems.

John Backman May 16, 2017 2:44pm

At the risk of sounding obvious, this is where I am so thankful for meditation. I've found that it bakes into my soul (mind, no-mind, whatever) all the habits of thought you mention above. The closer I am to daily practice, the more it permeates my life. I'm so enjoying your articles.

Valerie Jabin Alon May 16, 2017 1:37pm

Elyane, thank you for the practical advice. The first passage reminds me the famous Serenity Prayer - Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. It is an interesting contrast how the Western thought system encourages not only acceptance, but action where possible. That may be the essense of the difference in the systems. One was developed at a time when there were powerful kings and little individual freedom and the other comes from a time when individuals begin to have some sway over their destiny.