Bugs Bunny is standing under a waterfall, singing "April Showers" as he bathes, when suddenly the flow of water stops. (I remember this cartoon. It was released in 1962.) His first thought is that it is just that "pesky beaver" that stopped the flow of water. But then he imagines something worse. And then something even worse. He gets more and more frightened and panicky - not because of the waterfall, but because of the stories he's spinning about it. After letting it all escalate, he stops all the anxious mental chatter and goes back to his original thought. "Naw, it's probably just that pesky beaver."
Even as a kid I could see the wisdom.
Worry tricks us. When we worry we like to think we are "thinking through a problem," or "looking for ideas", or "asking ourselves if there isn't something more we could do". We like to think that all that mental activity is what we are doing to solve the problem.
It's not. It doesn't work. And we know that. Bright ideas and solutions don't come when we worry about them. They come in quiet moments, or they come when our minds are occupied with something else altogether.
I was awake through the night the other night with a thing. Worried. I knew worry wasn't going to solve things or get me back to sleep. So I rested there and let it feel kinda awful, knowing the feelings would pass, that the thing wasn't mine to solve, and that it would all look different in the morning. (It did.)
That isn't always possible. When worry becomes pathological, we may need medical help. When the discomfort is too much, we may need to deflect until we are ready to process it.
But we humans do worry.
Why? A lot of reasons.
Feeling helpless sucks. We'd rather spend mental energy on something we can't fix than let ourselves live with the discomfort of helplessness.
Worry is socially acceptable in my part of the world. Crying in public is not, even if tears might be a more honest response. Worry can even be encouraged. A neighbour was horrified that I wasn't as outraged as she was about the proposed local gravel pit.
Worry is exhausting. She was exhausted.
It escalates. The more we worry a problem, the worse it gets. Yet even still, we may convince ourselves that holding a problem in the back of our mind is a healthy thing to do. We wouldn't want to forget about the problem if an opportunity to assist came up, would we?
But really? If there was something we could do, we'd be doing it.
Yet we persist. It's a comfortable habit. It can feel like a familiar friend.
I heard a definition of worry a long time ago that stuck with me. "Worry is praying for what we don't want." It stops me in my tracks whenever I remember. But it also offers me a choice. Our thoughts creates our reality. Do I want to manifest more of the problem? Or put my precious energy somewhere better?
For those of us who are chronic worriers, letting worry go can take practice. And persistence. And patience. But it's worth it. There's relief and release in letting go.
Here are a few things I try:
- I take the bigger perspective. Rather than thinking “I have this problem,” I can say to myself “I’m having another worried thought about this thing.”
- During prayer, I pray for something I want, rather than something I do not want. For example praying for peace is better than praying for war to end. I want the energy to go to the peace part, not the war part.
- If the worry is really sticky, I try to move myself to another location. Like rolling over in bed when we want to change the energy. Sometimes our worry sticks to the place where we worry.
- Find a way to remember it’s normal to feel kinda awful now and then, and notice how it passes.
- Learn to accept that there are things in life we do not have the power to fix. That’s a good time to give it over to my angels.
- Share it. As I rest there feeling kinda awful, realize that there are a million (or more) people in the world right at that moment who feel kinda awful, just like me. With that, my heart softens towards us all.
I like to be like Bugs when it comes to worry. His waterfall problem hadn't yet been solved, but when he noticed how he was letting the worry spin, he put a stop to it before it got ridiculous. This freed his energy up for him to plot his next step. Clever bunny.