Seems like there’s PLENTY to worry about in this time and in this place. With so much suffering, pain and chaos going on in our world, our countries, our neighborhoods and our very own families it may feel like a dereliction of duty to be mindful, at peace and centered.
It’s ever so easy to get caught up in the call to worry as if there are metals and badges to be won. Actually, I did once receive a worry-medal, from a colleague…well not a metal exactly, but a clay representation of a hairy wart. It was a”worry wart” for being Chief Worry Wart. It was a goofy, dubious… and well deserved “honor.” It was not one that made me proud, but it long made me think and still makes me smile. My wart sat in the darkness of my desk drawer near my paper clips. Each time I opened the drawer I saw it and was reminded of the palpability and contagion of fear….I grew to understand that I was doing myself, my comrades and the folks we served no favors by worrying.
Through the years I made some hard-won progress in holding more equanimity and calm, but there’s still a lot of ground to cover. Long after receiving my well-earned-wart…which by then sat dusty and uninspired in the back corner of a different desk drawer, a dear and wise intern brought to my attention how often I uttered the words “I’m anxious.” Her insight and willingness to share it was such a gift; just as the wart had been. This gift prompted me to listen to my words and to pay close attention. As I listened, I heard my self tell myself (and others) that I was “anxious for my vacation”…”anxious for an upcoming training”…”anxious to see my next client”…”anxious to begin group” and “anxious about monthly reports.” Some of these things did feel weighty and a bit overwhelming, but many felt exciting and energizing. I became more tuned in to my words and began making changes. We often believe what we tell ourselves, after all.
Our minds can easily buy into the story that if we aren’t worried we don’t care or aren’t paying attention. Mostly our experience doesn’t bear this out. Compassion, awareness and even conscientiousness do not seem to be poured from the same cup as worry. Worry is often small-minded (I can’t handle this!), time tripping (stuck in the future) and self-serving (How is this going to impact me?!). Worry rarely feels like a gift of care. As an experiment, take a moment to recall a situation where someone was “worried about” you. Notice…did it feel like a gift or a weighty burden to be worried over? For compassion and awareness there is a sense of being fully present, awake and open. We can live more impactfully, serenely and generously when we show up to the present moment fully engaged. When we are able to “be here now,” we find that we are free to be with suffering and joy, more fully. We find we are more able to do the next thing, that’s in line with our values, to meet the task at hand.
There are many places to begin, when one is ready to resign their Chief Worry Wart post. We can begin by listening to our words and thoughts (and not believing everything we think) and by getting clear on speech that moves us toward our goals/values. We can begin by noticing how we feel around people who are highly anxious and reactive, as well as noticing how we feel around people who are calm and possess a measure of equanimity (See Thich Nhat Hanh’s quote below). We can begin by taking a moment several times a day to notice that right here, right now, everything is essentially ok. (“In this moment I notice that the walls still stand around me, the ceiling is still above me and the floor beneath me. There is enough oxygen for me. In this moment I am okay”).
When the crowded refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if every one panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person stayed calm, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.
–Thich Nhat Hanh
We can even begin by enjoying a poem that points to the common humanity of getting stuck in anxiety, while pointing to a gentle way out:
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
Today may you breathe more deeply, smile more often and feel more at home in your own life…