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.
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