We worry about our appearance, missing deadlines, quicksand, shark attacks, killer spiders, and getting mugged (perhaps because we watch too much TV?) It makes me think of the quote by Mark Twain: “I have lived through some terrible things in my life; some of them actually happened.”
While I don’t know if we can ever completely stop worrying (sorry to disappoint), I do believe we can let go of our worries as soon as they come up. To do this, we need to be mindful.
I think mindfulness is the gap between impulse and action, but it can also be a gap between thoughts. This way, thinking you may have forgotten to close the garage door when you left for work in the morning doesn’t lead to worrying you’ll be robbed of all your belongings, return to a gutted house, and then worrying your insurance company would deny your imaginary claim because there was no sign of breaking and entry, so you would end up bankrupt, homeless, and alone… all because one thought spiraled out of control.
We’ve grown so uncomfortable with the unknown that we worry about every possible case scenario until we’re under the illusion of control. To combat this habit, I’m not suggesting we meditate to control our thoughts, but we can meditate until our thoughts don’t control us. Failing to do this means we would continue spending precious time and energy entertaining delusions until we have no energy with which to actually enjoy the present moment (it’s like we rob ourselves of our own joy). When our mind is focused on anything but the present moment, we not only run the risk of falling down some stairs or cutting our finger in the kitchen, we also run the risk of getting stuck in the past, believing negative thoughts as if they were real, feeding our unreasonable fears, and fanning our ever-growing-anxieties.
Even if you only meditate for five minutes a day, choosing to focus on your breath or a mantra, for example, a prayer, or nothing at all, you essentially watch your mind like you would a movie, but as soon as your mind starts to wander, you bring it back to the breath or whatnot. The benefit of this practice isn’t the five minutes of focus, but rather later in the day, when you start having negative thoughts, for example, you catch yourself the way you did during meditation and bring your awareness back to the present moment.
It’s like a steering wheel for your state of mind.
I could have said, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” but then you’d ask, “How?” Well, I think that’s how we do it: by choosing where to focus our thoughts on a moment-by-moment basis. As Carlos Castaneda said, “We can make ourselves happy, or we can make ourselves miserable; the amount of work is the same.”