Monday, May 26, 2008

Worry, Part II

We each have areas of our lives that are challenging. This is as it should be, since such nudges propel us toward growth. However, when the hurdles are uncomfortably high or frequent, when we lack (or forget to use!) an effective self-soothing mechanism, or when we’ve developed habits that actually promote uneasiness, those nudges feel more like hammers. As stress invades, worry grows.

Just as in Worry, Part I, when I speak of it here, I mean more than the specific thoughts we’re likely to spin when overwhelmed. I am referring to the whole constellation of physical, psychological and spiritual predispositions that feed~~and, in turn, are fed by~~our fretting.

A stressed human being is most often someone whose body is inaccurately perceiving signals of danger. While our bodies are amazing creations, in this way they remain somewhat primitive. When we’re agitated because we might be late for work, for example, our bodies just can’t relate. In their world, a megaphone is booming “DANGER! DANGER!” They’re thinking ‘saber-toothed tiger’, ‘lava flow’, ‘marauding band of evildoers’. They have no category for ‘keeping folks waiting’ or ‘irritated boss’.

Thus, adrenaline is released, and suddenly we’re all dressed up with no place to go. Our bodies are revved, ready to fight or run for cover. At the very least, we’re on heightened alert status. We respond instinctively by scanning the environment, searching for danger in order to reduce it. And if there’s no overt peril out there, do we abort the mission? Not usually. We keep right on scanning, continually searching for something to fix. This is the essence of worry.

However, this capacity doesn’t arise from our physical makeup alone. We are imaginative beings. Creating is what we do.* However, while humans produce loving interactions, acts of valor, and works of beauty, we also fashion much that is unhelpful and counter to the life we yearn to live. Worry is an example of this tendency. In fact, as a primary drain of creative energy, it may be responsible for preventing the creation all manner of amazing things.

In terms of our personal psychology, anxiety encourages us to look within. Perhaps there are important issues underlying our stewing, and it's time to do a little problem-solving.  Is our life out of balance in some way? Do we have a pessimistic bent to our personality, with a tendency to assume the worst? How about a need for control? If we return for a moment to the example of being late for work, do we have an excessive fear of displeasing someone? If we’re running late due to our own behaviors, is there a self-sabotaging style that needs attention~~a disregard of detail, a pattern of spreading ourselves too thinly or attempting to do too much, a need to get up or go to bed earlier? Or does a predisposition toward anxiety speak of earlier or current wounds that are crying out to finally be heard and effectively healed?

Yet worry is more complex still. I believe it is most often a manifestation~~ even an enactment~~of an underlying belief or approach that is pressing to be brought into awareness. Worry is, at its heart, a spiritual issue, and within it can be found a plethora of unconsciously held beliefs about our relationship to life itself. As such, fretting might reflect any combination of the following:
  • We lack trust in Spirit. This mistrust can take a variety of forms. We may not truly believe that Spirit can offer a hand, that learning is possible~~perhaps even intended~~in each event of our lives, that we will ultimately be okay, or that good can come from something we deem bad.
  • We perceive ourselves to be victims in a harsh and punishing Universe.
  • We have an inflated idea of what our responsibilities are, believing that we oughta be in control and that things should play out as we see fit.
  • We have a tendency to shirk or refuse the one thing that is ours to manage~~our own nature. We may reject, in practice, the call to live in harmony with what is and to choose the wisest, most helpful response to any situation.
  • We believe we know what is best, despite the limitations of human vision. Referring again to the example of being late for work, we ignore the fact that being 5 minutes earlier could bring us to an intersection just as a distracted Mom misses a red light and plows into us, seriously harming us or her children. Or perhaps that our boss may need an opportunity to choose wisely how to address our tardiness. We forget that even losing our job could be in our best interests, although it might be difficult to see from our current vantage point.
  • We forget that seeds of growth exist in any situation, and that focusing on these would be a far more productive use of our energy.
  • We are blind to the Holy, mistaking our own limited vision and personal reactions for what is ultimately true. In the large scheme of life on this planet, and even our own small ones, we forget that whatever incident we're hooked by likely doesn’t matter all that much. We continue to shrink ourselves into a tight box at the exclusion of so much.
In a previous essay, I discussed the need to keep our channels open to the spiritual force that sustains us. Worry is an activity that effectively crimps that channel, shrinking our sustenance to a mere trickle. By devoting our precious energy to anxiety, we forgo trust, reinforce a fear-based approach to the activity of living, and close down to the richness that surrounds us.

Choosing what we give our attention to is an important aspect of conscious living. Granted, it may not always feel as if we have a choice, but we do. The first step is to become cognizant of the choices we’re making. There is simply no substitute for awareness. Once we have that, we can begin to choose differently. In next week's essay, I’ll offer some specific suggestions on how to do just that.

Some folks assert that we create our own reality. No matter how you feel about this statement, it can’t be denied that our perspective profoundly effects our experience of our reality. If you lean toward worry, you will find worrisome things to focus on, and that will become your experience, your reality.

This living alive is challenging work. Here’s to hoping we can all live with greater trust and a willingness to allow ourselves to be transformed by that small voice whispering our name.


Loanne Marie

*For more on how this tendency plays out when we try to quiet our minds in meditation, see Meditation Myths #1

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