Dr. Thynn Thynn, a Burmese doctor turned meditation teacher in the Theravada Buddhist tradition has said,
“Peace is a natural mind-state in every one of us. Peace has been there since the day we were born and it is going to be there till the day we die. It is our greatest gift; so why do we think we have no peace of mind?
“Experiencing peace is like looking at our hands. Usually, we see only the fingers—not the spaces in between. In a similar manner, when we look at the mind, we are aware of the active states, such as our running thoughts and the one-thousand-and-one feelings that are associated with them, but we tend to overlook the intervals of peace between them.”
Worry fills up those intervals, those spaces, until there is no room between thoughts. Worry causes stress and extended worry turns into anxiety.
I spent years constantly worried. I worried about everything and everyone. One particularly acute instance comes to mind.
I once had a friend who went to jail for dealing pot. He was away for years, and I never wrote or visited him because I was afraid to ask his brother how to get in touch with him. This was because the brother had gone a little wacko stalker on me many years earlier.
I was in the depths of my disorder when I heard that my friend was out of jail and had a job as a workman for a company in the small town where I lived. My guilt racked me. I was worried—beyond worried—that I would run into him. Maybe obsessed. Did I mention the town was small, so that an accidental meeting was actually highly likely? I just knew that he would be disappointed in me. I had let him down. I just knew that if I saw him I would panic, say something stupid, and ultimately have to admit to being an utterly shitty person.
I became hypervigilant. When I saw any truck belonging to that company I would hide, to the point of turning down streets I had no business being on, whether I was walking or driving. When I was alone at home, which was the whole school day long, I would sit rigid at the window, watching for their trucks, terrified to see one.
I spent days, maybe weeks, with my heart clenched in guilt over past actions and fear of an imaginary future experience.
Nuts! Yes, indeed. Frighteningly so. I knew something was very wrong with how I was acting; I was completely hijacked by worry.
Most of us, most of the time, aren’t consumed with worry to the point of being immobilized. But we do worry needlessly. We worry most about the people in our lives—our family and friends and co-workers. We might worry about what could happen to them or what they think about us. We might even worry for them. We might worry they aren’t making the best decisions. I used to worry about what my husband wore and what he ate. Turns out, he is indeed a grown man who can take care of himself!
999 times out of 1000, worry isn’t helping. The people we care about don’t need a worry-wart; they need someone who will be present with them and accept them as they are without trying to fix them; someone to listen with an open heart; and someone who will take action when it’s needed and only when it’s needed.
From Swami Rama,
“You can learn to control your mind very well—because it is yours, but do not try to control the minds of others and make them dependent. When one becomes dependent, one suffers, so you should learn to be independent, and you should not make others dependent upon you.”
Worry is a symptom of a lack of trust. If you trusted yourself to make the right decision and to take the right action in situations as they arise, would you still worry? What about the people in your life? Can you trust them to make their own choices? Spoiler: they’re going to anyway! The only person whose actions you can determine is you.
So, how can we, as individuals, come to make spontaneously good choices? Be Love.
I do not mean a superficial love, with rainbows and Lisa Frank stickers, or gooey, lusty love. I mean the Love that created and sustains this Reality and that beats in your heart. The Love that mystics mean when they say God is Love. Let Love be the rule that you always follow, to the point that it becomes ingrained in you.
In Yoga, the first moral precept is ahimsa—nonharming. All the other rules are based on this one. In every decision, do the least harm. It’s not unlike the Golden Rule, which can be found in one form or another in all the world’s religions: Do to others as you would have done to you. In every decision, do the most good.
Rick Hanson, Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley put it this way,
"Across all faiths and traditions, every great teacher had asked us to be loving and kind. Loving-kindness is not about being nice in some sentimental or superficial way: it is a fearless, passionate cherishing of everyone and everything, omitting none."
Plus, it feels good to let yourself live a life of Love. It feels like freedom and joy.
Worry will happen. Our brains are built to seek out threats and escape them. But if you trust in yourself and in Love, you can learn to let go of your worries. It just takes practice. That is what we do on the mat and in meditation.
I did eventually run into my old friend. He let me hug him.