Category Archives: Worry

Day of Rest

My sweet friend Julia shared this poem last week, and it was so perfectly timed for me, the reminder that worry is like praying for what you don’t want to happen, that it is counterproductive and even destructive, and at its most innocent it comes to nothing, so it’s okay to let it go, to open up and sing. I thought maybe you might need the reminder too, kind and gentle reader.

I Worried
Mary Oliver

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,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

When Things Get Weird

May the grace of god be with you always in your heart
May you know the truth inside you from the start
May you find the strength to know that you are a part of something beautiful.
~Alexi Murdoch

The past few days have been weird. It started yesterday morning when I got to the gym for my yoga class–6:30 am and still dark out. There were police cars blocking off the road, and an ambulance was just pulling away. Apparently, a homeless man had been hit by a train. He was a known drinker, and he may have passed out or fell on the tracks, (sad postscript: his death has been ruled a suicide). I only mention his homelessness because that street is between a men’s shelter and a city park where many homeless people hang out during the day, and it’s not the first time there have been police and paramedics there, in fact it’s quite common. There are lots of fights and suffering and mess there, people without any where else to go.

The ambulance left without a passenger because it was a scene to be investigated, not a rescue. After yoga, people inside the gym and out on the sidewalk were trying to get a better look. The police had put up temporary barriers, but they weren’t hiding much, and if you looked just right, without trying very hard, you could see everything. I accidentally caught a glimpse of one tennis shoe and looked away. It’s the third homeless person to die in that area, in full view of the gym, in the past as many years. It always throws a shadow over the space, over the rest of the day, (as it should). Every time I hear a train whistle, sadness washes over me. It’s a pitiful sound anyway, but this death, lonely and needless and brutal, now adds to the melancholy.

May the grace of god be with you always in your heart
May you know the truth inside you from the start
May you find the strength to know that you are a part of something beautiful.

I left work a little early because the sky was turning dark and getting noisy, and I knew that big thunderstorms were predicted. Eric had emailed that he was taking the dogs to Lory State Park (there was a break in the weather midday), which I would have argued with because of the storms in the forecast, but he was already gone by the time I knew. I expected him to be back when I got home, but I pulled up to my house, with its empty driveway, just as the rain started.

And then, it started to pour, thunder and lightning, and eventually hail. The rain was coming down so fast it was spilling over the edges of the gutters, the downspouts gushing water and leaves. At one point, the thunder sounded for at least five minutes straight. The streets started to flood, and still no Eric. I did every stupid, mindless chore I could think of to distract myself–sorted, folded, and put away laundry, straightened up, swept, made the bed. All I could think of was him and the dogs stuck up in the park somewhere, exposed, Dexter unable to handle the downpour so reverse sneezing, nose bleeding, Eric struck by lightning, Sam frantic and lost–every awful scenario I could think of. Just as I was thinking “should I take someone with me or just drive up there by myself and try to find them?”, Eric called and said he was parked under a tree not far from the house, had to pull over because it was raining so hard he couldn’t see, that he’d be home in just a few minutes. The storm hadn’t hit up at the park, they’d only gotten a little rained on towards the end of their hike, and he was surprised how bad it was in town.

I was so happy to see them. To have everyone home and safe. Once the rain stopped, I looked outside, and there was a double rainbow.

May the grace of god be with you always in your heart
May you know the truth inside you from the start
May you find the strength to know that you are a part of something beautiful.

Eric had to leave at 5 am this morning to drive to Pueblo for a conference. It was going to be a long day for me until he got back home, taking care of the dogs, working, teaching. On our walk this morning, in the darkest dark, there were people on the porch of a house down the road making weird sounds, ones that I at first thought were an animal. I thought they were fighting, then I thought maybe they were doing something nicer (and naughtier), but once we got close enough, I realized that one was really heavy, using a cane and possibly hurt, and the other was trying to get her in the front door, but having trouble. I couldn’t help because I had the dogs, but something about it stayed with me, made me think about all the private suffering that goes on in the dark, things we never know about, struggles and accidents we may never see. I worried for the thousandth time about Eric being on the road for three hours, wished and prayed that he’d make it there safe, make it home safe, in the same moment knowing so many others wouldn’t.

Later in the morning, I noticed that Dexter had another hot spot, that he’d licked a patch on his leg raw. For four years in a row, this time of year, he’s done the same, but last year he didn’t. Last year was the year he started to sneeze instead, and now there’s the maybe might be probably but we don’t know for sure fatal nasal tumor. Something about the hot spot made me worry, but was also oddly comforting–this is what he does every year, this time of year, and he is doing it again–the same routine, one more year. And then Sam came into the kitchen, limping, holding up his right foot, hurt. Seriously?

But later, both dogs were fine, lying in the grass, the warm sun, relaxing. All morning, I kept thinking, “This too shall pass.” All of it–life, time, worry, panic, joy, all of it arising one moment and dissolving the next.

Later, in my office before I went to teach, I felt raw and sad and tired. I closed the door and stood in mountain pose facing my wall of windows. On the other side of the glass was a tree that had turned bright gold in the past week, behind that was fluffy white clouds and blue sky, and below, CSU people walking and talking and laughing and suffering. In the background played Alexi Murdoch’s song Something Beautiful. I stood still, but strong, broken but whole, letting the tears roll down my face, holding my heart open.

I don’t know what any of this means. I want to think that it means something, like maybe I am a part of something beautiful.

May the grace of god be with you always in your heart
May you know the truth inside you from the start
May you find the strength to know that you are a part of something beautiful.

Three Truths and One Wish

1. Truth: Nervous anticipation, anxiety and worry is always worse than the actual thing that you are waiting on, fearing. When it comes, you will know what to do. Your heart might break, but you will survive it.

2. Truth: Uncertainty, not knowing, not being sure is uncomfortable. You sit with your confusion, your helplessness. You don’t know what to do, or how to help, and it’s irritating, it hurts.

3. Truth: Life is both tender and terrible, beautiful and brutal. Even in the moments when you feel like you can’t breathe, like your own thoughts and feelings are poisoning you, you are alive.

One wish: That we can, with wisdom and compassion, be where we are, fully open and awake, engaged and connected with all that is. That we remember we are not alone. That we can turn the poison into medicine.

Wishcasting Wednesday

What do you wish to walk away from?

Fear, worry, and anxiety. This is something to stop doing in general, to let go of no matter when or why it arises, but specifically there is one way this manifests for me in my life that is completely toxic: worry about those I love. The one thing I can count on, all of us can, is impermanence.  Everyone we love, including ourselves, is going to die, cease to exist, become inaccessible as a physical form, is finite and mortal. This is true, and fear, worry, or anxiety won’t change that, won’t protect me. And yet, I am constantly being triggered–any time the dogs are sick or hurt, any time Eric drives away from me in a car or I get on a plane, every time I hear yet another story about someone in my family making a bad choice, or see them struggling or sick. Their suffering is out of my control and a constant reminder of my biggest fear, that one day we will lose each other. We will disappoint and hurt each other. I will abandon them or they will leave me, one way or another we will be separated.

I wish to walk away from fear, worry, and anxiety, and lean into joy, soften to love, welcome and embrace reality.

Numbing. This is a response to fear, discomfort, lack of appropriate self-care. I feel the twinge of anxiety about a situation and I want to numb myself to that ache. I’m tired, but my mind is pushing, insisting, “keep working, keep doing, just one more thing and you can stop” and I want to numb out and release myself. There are better ways to cope, I know that and yet I don’t always make the best choices, sometimes slip into old, deep habits and ways of being. I want to know deep in my bones that facing reality, the vulnerability, discomfort and pain of the moment, even the possibility of getting my ass kicked by it is better than being numb. Brene’ Brown says, in Gifts of Imperfection,

[T]here’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing. There is a full spectrum of human emotion and when we numb the dark, we numb the light. While I was “taking the edge off” of the pain and vulnerability, I was also unintentionally dulling my experience of good feelings, like joy…When we lose our tolerance for discomfort, we lose joy.

I wish to walk away from numbing and into a full, wholehearted experience of my life.

Busyness and exhaustion. I get too busy and won’t allow myself to rest. When this goes on for too long, I become depleted and start to struggle in all kinds of ways, all areas of my life. Work is harder, even play becomes difficult. I become irritable, easily frustrated, and confused. Illness finds a way in. It’s more difficult to make decisions and my priorities aren’t clear. I get overwhelmed and stuck, or speedy and sloppy, accident prone. I make poor choices about how to care for myself. I push past my limits, smash myself to bits, eat too much of the wrong things, don’t get the exercise or rest I need, have a nasty internal dialogue, falter in my commitments and practices, abandon and mistreat what and whom I love.

I wish to walk away from busyness and exhaustion, and towards rest, play, stillness, calm, and self-care.

Criticism and judgement. This helps nothing, no one. Rejecting the way things are doesn’t change the way things are. Pointing out the weakness of others, highlighting their mistakes, focusing on their confusion doesn’t make you strong. Love and acceptance, equanimity, truly is the healthiest place/way to be. And you might think that if you are only critical of yourself and not others–which usually isn’t the case, typically if you are doing it to yourself you can’t help but pass it on, but if you were able to pull it off–this kind of self harm ripples out, is not self contained.

I was thinking about this yesterday when I was watching an interview with a woman who had struggled with an eating disorder and body image issues in the past, and described herself as “horribly fat” at a moment of her unhealthy past, but the number she gave is my current weight…what she labeled “horribly fat.” I am aware enough to know that numbers are relative, and that her “fat” number doesn’t make me fat, but what I did realize in thinking through it is that if you don’t practice kindness, gentleness towards yourself, even your past troubled self, you will find yourself inadvertently criticizing every person who is like that, now or still. Comparison, criticism, being unforgiving does so much harm, generates so much shame, pain, and suffering.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” ~Mother Teresa

I want to walk away from criticism and judgement, and walk in a spirit of equanimity, compassion, and love.

Three Truths and One Wish

The past few days, I have been stuck in worry and fear. I’m not as much of a worrier as I used to be. About thirteen years ago, I was having panic attacks and diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, so I know worry. Now the panic attacks are gone and I don’t worry that much (meditation, yoga, writing, and my dogs all contributed to the “fix”)–and yet, every once in a while, for some reason, my mind gets hooked by something and I find myself trapped in discursive thought, like my brain is on this giant hamster wheel, running and running with no rest.

1. Truth: When we are stuck in worry, in fear, it’s hard to see our way out. These negative thoughts and emotions, this place where our mind anticipates and attempts to avoid potential threats is sticky and deep. The power of our imagination fueled by panic and anxiety and fear is able to generate monsters and situations we can almost touch they seem so real. Worry and fear manifest in our bodies, generate stress, can sometimes even take us from dis-ease to actual disease. Our limbic brain takes over and all it knows is fight, flight, or freeze. Sometimes all we can do is sit with it, stay with it, give it our full attention until it passes, dissolves, releases us from its grip.

artwork by kristin noelle of trust tending

2. Truth: Worry is wasted. It makes us experience awful things that may never actually happen. I read somewhere that worrying is like praying for the things you don’t want.

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.” ~Corrie ten Boom

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.” ~Dalai Lama

3. Truth: The real source of all worry, all our fear, is the Big Bad. What’s the Big Bad? Everything changes, and we all are going to die. This worry, this anxiety, this truth is what’s underneath every worry we generate. If we can somehow accept, even make friends with the Big Bad, the other worries fade, dissolve, because when we accept the realities of change and death, we can embrace and embody our life, we can live. I know, I know: easier said than done, but we have to try, because the fear can keep us frozen or numb, or both–and that is not living.

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” ~Siddhārtha Gautama

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” ~Steve Jobs

One wish: That we can all be kind and gentle with ourselves when we worry, when we are afraid, and then, quickly and with ease, be released from worry, let go of our anxiety, relax and return to joy and gratitude, to life in the present moment.

Mindfulness practices, such as yoga and meditation and art making, are very effective for making peace with the Big Bad, for coping with anxiety and fear and worry. Here are a few other things written about worry that you might find helpful: