you worry too much.
You have seen your own strength.
You have seen your own beauty.
You have seen your golden wings.
Of anything less,
why do you worry?
You are in truth
the soul, of the soul, of the soul.
When I was a child I used to cry every Sunday night before the new school week began. Although I appeared to be well adjusted on the outside--I had friends and made good enough grades--I struggled with feeling displaced and fundamentally uncomfortable. I worried about everything. My mom, who was trying her best to comfort my anxiety, bought me a collection of worry people. They were tiny dolls that wore colorful Guatemalan clothes and seemed to arrive from some distant land. At night before bed I would whisper my worries to the dolls and place them under my pillow. Although it was never clearly articulated, the implication was that while I slept they were supposed to magically carry my fears away. It was a creative idea that provided a certain level of assurance both to my mom and me, but ultimately, I still worried.
As I have grown older, I have met many people that experienced similar challenges in school and are familiar with the discomfort of trying to navigate the multitude of verbalized and unspoken rules of conduct. I can’t help but think--where were YOU when I was in school? And why don’t we provide conversations for kids (and adults) to express their discomfort? Maybe some kind of code word or hand shake for those of us who need to be reminded that we are not alone or crazy. To be honest, I still find myself often defaulting to worry mode. Concerns that turn into relentless “what-if’s” and fears that are tied up in my feeling like life is a giant standardized test and I am running out of time while my future hangs in the balance.
When I really look carefully, I can see that worry is actually a disguise for deeply caring about something but it is rooted in the shame that who we are will never be quite good enough. Whether it’s our appearance, intelligence or talent, we all struggle with wanting to be valued, accepted and loved. We believe that we have to perfect, perform or please to win the attention that we crave. Worry is a non partisan player in the psyche--it can take any/all material from our lives and turn it into a catastrophic event. We become addicted to the worry as a means of feeling significant. And as all true worrywarts know--the greatest cause for worry is when we aren’t actually worried about anything!
So how do we deal with worry in our lives? How can we shift from fearful worrying to simply caring about our lives with more compassion and peace?
Here are a few things that I have learned:
Gather your people
The gift my mom gave me as a child applies here. Except rather than sharing with inanimate objects, find the real people in your life with whom you can talk. These are the people that know and love you and won’t try to dismiss or fix your concerns, but rather act as true sounding boards and allies in your process. As Dr. Brene Brown says in her work--Shame thrives in secrecy. When we call it out lovingly and honestly in the company of a compassionate other, we can begin to feel the connection that we deeply long for. Have a certain number of precious people on speed dial and at precisely those times when you would rather run and hide--have the courage to call them and talk about what scares you most. Creating a safe space and place for our worries to land is a necessary step in letting go of the habits that cause us to cling to them.
Shift Your Focus
Brain research has shown that we have evolved with a "negative bias" hardwired into our thinking. This makes sense when we think of the primitive challenge to "have lunch rather than be lunch" as our major motivation. Our very survival depended on our ability to foresee trouble. However, as advancements in neuroscience have shown, we have the ability to create new pathways in the brain. Consciously choosing where we place our attention is an art and skill that can be developed with practice. Here is a simple exercise that comes from the work of Psychosynthesis that can be used a starting place:
Close your eyes and take a few breaths to relax your body. Then imagine a blank, white screen before you. Visualize a yellow triangle there. Stay with it for a few breaths. Next imagine a red triangle next to the yellow one. Keep both triangles in your field of vision. Then begin to shift your attention from one triangle to the other. Focus on one at a time. Notice your ability to shift your attention back and forth.
Once you are familiar with this capacity, instead of triangles, imagine two different situations, one pleasant and the other unpleasant. First imagine the unpleasant situation in detail. Experience it with all of your senses. Then shift your attention to the pleasant situation, and experience it fully. Now shift your attention rapidly a few times between the two situations.
This exercise can be practiced with any two polarities (inner/outer; past/future). With practice you are able to recognize that you are the one in the center who can direct the light of attention as you choose.
Historically many artists battled anxiety and depression. The call to create is related to the Soul’s ache for beauty, form and expression. When we remove the veils of thought, judgement and blame, worry and anxiety are often nothing more than excess energy that need to be channelled though deliberate movement. Any creative medium can be one in which we can collaborate with the intensity of human emotion in a constructive way. Journalling, dancing, gardening, drawing or cooking can all be explored as supportive channels for our worry, fear or doubt. In my own experience, creativity is an alchemical process that transforms the lead of our base emotions and thoughts into the gold of deeper knowing and truth.
Use your worry habit to help you grow in the direction of wholeness. Part of becoming a fully functioning adult is about recognizing who is in charge. On any given day there are a myriad voices within and around us championing for attention and soliciting our vote in electing the leadership of our being. In psychological terms, these are considered to be sub-personalities, or fragments of our psyche that carry very different perspectives and potentialities. “The worrier” could be understood as one of these sub-personalities that we have unconsciously permitted to run the show. Chances are, if we listen carefully to what any part of us has to say, there is wisdom and guidance for us. Imagine sitting down with this part of yourself and talking to it. Ask questions and stay open and curious. What wisdom can you glean? How can this part of you be integrated into a larger framework of awareness rather than always occupying center stage? This question itself sets up the possibility of discovering what, in Transpersonal Psychology, is called the transpersonal self. It is that central or core aspect of ourselves that lives within and beyond our personalities and conditioning. It can be referred to in many ways such as Higher Self, Soul, True Nature, Essence, God, Love, etc. When perceived from this perspective of wholeness, we are able to appreciate all parts as treasured fragments whose source is the same. The origins of the word "worry" come from Middle English worien and Old English wyrgan which mean "to strangle" or "to constrict." This seems to refer to the way constant worry can lead to a kind of disconnection from our essential self.
For those of you who appreciate statistics, it is interesting to note that 40% of what you worry about will never happen, 30% happened in the past and can't be changed, 10% are considered to be insignificant issues, and 12% are related to issues of health that will never happen. That means 92% of our worries are related to events that have either already happened or never will!
Take some time this month to become aware of what worries and concerns are occupying your life and then experiment with some or all of the suggestions here to begin to transmute the energy of worry into the wide awake heart of wonder.
The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door. ~Clarissa Pinkola Estes
We are living in a time of great challenge, change and uncertainty. Overpopulation, climate change, and corporate controlled industry are just a few of the social and economic issues that we face today. Environmental activist Joanna Macy describes the essential adventure of our time as “the Great Turning,” marking a shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization. Macy declares:
“A revolution is underway because people are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying our world. We have the technical knowledge, the communication tools, and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water, and meet rational energy needs. Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning. It is happening now.”
We are part of this revolution and our contribution to the healing and transformation of the planet begins with our personal commitment to our own awakening. Sri T. Krishnamacharya described yoga as the process where the impossible becomes possible and the possible over a long period of time becomes easy. If we consider our human development, this process becomes clear—as babies it seems impossible that we will ever walk or run, adolescence and young adulthood highlight the challenge of finding our identity apart from our families of origin, and the tests of adulthood and aging are centered around generativity and continued growth rather than stagnation and regression. Each stage of life presents specific crises to aid in our transformation into fully actualized human beings. The word “crisis” comes from the Greek krisis and literally means “decision,” such as the time when an important decision must be made or as the turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death. Crises in our lives are actually vital junctures or thresholds to be crossed that cultivate the conditions necessary for the impossible to become possible in our lives. Crisis is often the carrier pigeon of calling in our lives and ushers us into a new way of being or living. We cannot separate our adventures from our ordeals—they exist hand in hand to elicit deeper truths about ourselves and greater meaning for our lives. These challenges act as sacred portals initiating us into an entirely new life.
Ordeal as Opportunity
The Hero Journey is a motif that was developed by American scholar Joseph Campbell who studied stories from various cultures around the world to discover the one universal story that each myth contains. As a “monomyth,” or the one great story, it represents the archetypal journey of transformation that every person must undergo in order to become a whole human being. It is a cyclical journey where one is called away from the familiar, often through a significant challenge or difficulty that disrupts the status quo, into the wild terrain of the unconscious psyche. The hero encounters extreme difficulty (lifelong saboteurs, past traumas, etc.) and must face and slay the dragon (that which we most fear) in order to recover a lost treasure (our individual “bliss”). Returning to the very place from which we started--home--we must complete the journey by offering the jewel to the world. Each of our unique lives is the myth that we must live out to realize our full potential and bring forth our gifts in service of the greater good. In every adventure story the hero or heroine encounters an ordeal (or several) that test the limits of what (s)he thought possible.
In the movie The Wizard of Oz, for example, Dorothy is tested all along the way by the Wicked Witch of the West who uses all of her power to scare and divert Dorothy from her quest while seeking to destroy her ability to believe in herself. Dorothy’s greatest challenge occurs in the Witch’s castle when she is forced to choose whether to give up the magic red slippers or her precious Toto. The ordeal that ensues is when the Witch torches the Scarecrow and he begins to burn. In an effort to protect her friend, Dorothy douses the fire and accidentally wets the Wicked Witch who melts into a puddle on the floor. Eventually she is rewarded for her bravery and returns home to Kansas with the knowledge that what she was seeking, she had all along. The heroine had to experience the tests and trials in order to discover the gift—she had to encounter her own crucible challenge to make the impossible possible.
Just like Dorothy, our personal adventures come with their own ordeals. The antagonist may come in the form of an illness, a difficult relationship, the loss of a job, divorce, or death. Mid-life as well as other major transitions can initiate a crisis. In my own life marriage and motherhood have proven to be the ultimate ordeals! While also full of unexpected blessings, these relationships induce great challenge. Nothing can fully prepare us for the ordeals, yet the hidden beauty contained within them allows us to discover entirely new aspects of ourselves that would otherwise remain unknown. Our ordeals will ask something from us; we will have to give something up in order to gain the treasure. Using my own life as an example: my choice to nurture a family as one of my primary values has meant that I have had to sacrifice a full time career outside of the home. While I respect and admire the women that are mothers and have careers, I recognize my personal need to prioritize and place my family first. Being a mother is the most difficult job I have ever had and through it I have learned about my greatest limitations as well as the source of my deepest strength. Navigating ordeals with grace and grit is what being a mother is all about! Learning to let go is a daily and sometimes momentary reality. My capacity to love has been enlarged well beyond myself and even my own children to include all of the mothers on the ground each and everyday doing their part to keep the family together. Most significantly, my understanding of what it means to be a woman, reclaiming and honoring the feminine principles of grounding, containment, compassion, ferocity and creativity have become prominent in my awakening. Our ordeals contain countless opportunities for self-discovery if we are willing to see the blessings in the challenges.
Dorothy is not alone in her journey to Oz. Along the way she encounters those with whom she creates an alliance of friendship and mutual support: her dog Toto, Glinda The Good Witch, the Scarecrow, the Tin man and the Cowardly Lion.
The discovery of allies is an important part of the journey. Very often the particular adventures that we undertake will also include the helpers that will provide the aid we most need. Allies are distinctly different than someone we may consider more casually as a friend. Very specifically, allies are the ones that can really be in it with us. One of my teachers, Michael Mervosh, explains that an ally is someone who has been through similar trials and ordeals and yet “is able to have a differing perspective from our own, which we will need as we journey through life.” It is foolish to think that we can make the journey on our own. We need those who help us. Allies can come in the form of visible and invisible aid. Benevolent strangers that appear when we are most in need are our allies. Angels, ancestors and spirit guides can assist our walking from the other side. The natural world and all of its beauty can act as healer for us. Even animals can provide companionship and unconditional love when we are struggling. Our allies appear when we are in need; we must be open to receiving the help!
Useful Tips for Navigating Ordeals
When we are in the throes of an ordeal it can be very difficult to maintain our connection to center and the challenges can induce fear and self-doubt causing us to believe that there is something wrong with us that must be fixed. Do your best not to take your ordeals too personally—remember that they are part of the universal experience of being human—everyone experiences them! I encourage you to do your best to practice self-care in the following ways:
What seems “impossible” for you now? Rather than engaging your logical mind, answer this question more intuitively by practicing stream of consciousness writing for ten minutes or longer. Simply write the question at the top of your page and then commit to writing without stopping or censoring your words. Just let it flow and see what emerges.
Reflect back upon the span of your life. Revisit that which has been the “Supreme Ordeal” of your life's time, to date. What was it about the experience that made it feel like such an ordeal for you? What have you learned from this profound life experience that moved you closer toward your authentic self?
What is the most significant or meaningful adventure/ordeal in your present day life? What is it that makes it such an adventure or ordeal for you? As you reflect on your answers to the previous question, what opportunity do you see lying before you, for your unfolding future, from here?
Who are your allies? Who is able to be in it with you? What places or people feel supportive for you?
What kind of self-care do you most need now? Is there a particular practice that you would like to emphasize at this time?
We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For
As the Great Turning is underway and we are in the process of our own transformational growth process, we can call on the wisdom of those who have gone before us to help us find the way. The Native Americans considered the impact of their choices by the 7 generation principle: for every personal, governmental or corporate decision made, it was taken into account how it would affect the next seven generations into the future. A generation is thought to be 25 years—so that’s 175 years impact to consider. “Sustainability” for the indigenous people meant living in balance and harmony with the world around them. Mitakuye oyasin is the term used by the Lakota that means “we are all related to, and respect, everything in life.” Take to heart this message from the Hopi Elders as a timely reminder for you, who have been called on a sacred mission as artists, yogis, helpers, healers, and light bearers to make the impossible, possible through your commitment and courage to the realizing the essential teaching of the path—we are that which we are seeking; only ONE exists and we are the individual expressions of that Unity. We need not feel small and insignificant in the face of the world's problems. We are the ones we have been waiting for. . .
Message From the Hopi Elders:
You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for your leader.
Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.
The time of the one wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
--Hopi Elders' Prophecy, June 8, 2000
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