“Worrying is praying for something you don’t want.” – Bhagavan Das
Is it possible to be a professional worrier? If so, I’ve held a long and distinguished career. Ever since I was a wee thing, I could worry myself into a frothy mess. When I was 8, my sweet (and probably worried) mother gave me a smooth flat stone with a little thumb-shaped divot in it. “It’s a worry stone,” she said. “Just keep it in your pocket and rub it whenever you feel worried.” I put it in my pocket and rubbed it throughout my (ever-so-worrisome) third grade day. In a week, it snapped it in half from overuse.
Here is an excerpt from an essay in my upcoming book, When In Doubt, Dance*:
“[After going to college and getting a job, I found that my life was still messy and I still was full of anxiety.] So I came up with a strategy. It was brilliant. Cosmic, even. I worried about everything that could go wrong. Everything. In my head, I considered all the catastrophes that I could possibly come up with and played them out all the way to the smoking wreckage of everything I held dear. My reasoning was (and yes, I’m not kidding, this was actually a conscious approach that I thought through carefully and ad nauseam) that I would outsmart the gods. That’s right, my approach for dealing with the anxiety and uncertainty was to outsmart the gods. I had only a vague notion of who, exactly, these gods were that I was outsmarting. Fate or the Universe or whoever was pulling the strings in the unfolding episodes of my twenty-something life. My idea was that the gods wanted to surprise me with their campaigns to screw up my life. I figured that if I thought of it first, the gods wouldn’t do it because I’d seen it coming. And therefore, it would logically follow that my worrying would foil their ploys to mess up my plans.
“I told you it was brilliant. When in doubt, worry.
“So that’s what I did. I worried. About everything. And you can imagine, my friends, you can just imagine how much fun I was to be with during the Outsmart-The-Gods-With-Worry Era. Not fun. It was also extremely not fun to be in my own head. It was like a hornet’s nest in the middle of a bramble patch in there.”
And it appears that I am not alone in this affliction. While leading Nia retreats in the Sacred Valley of Peru in the mid-2000s, I encountered a shaman from one of the local villages. After spending some time with us, I asked him what he observed about Americans. He looked at me with clear blue eyes and shook his head incredulously, “You worry too much.”
It’s true. We do. Well, I do, anyway. Maybe you relate to this worry habit that is, as Bhagavan Das says “praying for what you don’t want.” If you’re not a worrier, it’s likely that you know someone with the condition.
The martial art of Aikido teaches that energy follows attention. Worry is wasted attention. Worry stops me from listening and noticing what is happening now by zipping me into a (usually spectacularly dreadful) future. Worry really is just a habit, but for many of us it is so entrenched and long-standing that not only is it challenging to change, we may not even realize when we’re doing it!
Tomorrow, in the second part of this post, we’ll play with noticing when we’re worrying and how to make different choices with our mental energy. In particular, we’ll look at how to shift out of body-worry (one of my favorite things to worry about) and into self-healing. See you tomorrow!
* Yes! I’m writing a book of essays called When in Doubt, Dance. It’s early days, and right now I’m having a great time writing new pieces and reworking posts from Focus Pocus to include. If you’re interested in knowing more, reading sneak previews, and hearing about developments in the project, please just leave a comment below and include the title of your favorite Focus Pocus Post (it might be part of the book) and I’ll make sure you’re in the know!