The other day while driving home with my soon-to-be 11-year-old son, he told me he was very worried about a particular situation. I did my best to teach him and let him know that worrying doesn't solve the problem. And in this particular situation, he is not responsible for it and there's absolutely nothing he can do to solve it.
But our conversation got me thinking, why do we worry? We all worry whether we want to or not. It may be about the weather, school, our job, our health, the health of a loved one. It could be about situations or events that already happened, that are happening now, or that may never ever happen. Worry keeps us from enjoying our life now, in the present moment.
So what exactly does it mean to worry?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of worry is
‘to think about problems or fears : to feel or show fear and concern because you think that something bad has happened or could happen’
So worrying is caused by fear of some sort. Fear is an emotion just like happiness, joy or anger. Fear is what helps us and other species perceive danger. It is what has kept us and other species alive for millions of years. It is the unnecessary worry and the negative thinking that cause chaos in our mind and lives, sometimes leading to illness and disease. Fear and worry to a certain degree are what allows us to plan ahead, avoid danger and keep safe.
I am not free of worry. If anything, I’d say I worry a lot. I recall when my children were younger, I was constantly worried about their well-being and safety, I suffered from anxiety to the point where I had trouble sleeping at night. Somehow, our problems and monsters seem bigger and scarier at night. Now when I look back, all the things I worried about never happened and if they did, it was never as bad as I thought it could be. Please don’t get me wrong by thinking that bad things don’t happen -THEY DO, every single day. But worrying doesn’t change what may or may not happen.
Worry and fear have been a constant in human history. Sacred texts written thousands of years ago all mention it.
The Bible says, Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
In the teachings of Buddhism, worry is among the Five Hindrances. Hindrance number four is uddhacca-kukkucca in Pali translated as ‘restlessness and worry.’ Much of the Buddha’s advice on the hindrances is related to meditation.
Taken from Hindu sacred text: ‘The chief enemies of the brain are Worry, which disorganizes the human machinery; Shock, which paralyzes the brain. Worry or excitement causes irregular nerve action. We call it confusion of ideas or nervosity. Worry is the worst disease of the age."
In the Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Sutra i.12 translates as Only through constant practice and non-attachment the fluctuations of the mind cease.
So as you can see, we have been worrying since the beginning of time. It’s a part of our everyday life. It’s not easy to not worry; it takes much more than telling yourself ‘don’t worry,’ but with practice, you can choose what thoughts you want to focus on.
Below is the Old Cherokee Tale of Two Wolves I’d like to share. I read this tale a few years ago, and although it doesn’t tell us how to stop worrying, it does hold a lovely and important lesson. If you have read it before, it’s worth a second read and if not, I hope you enjoy it!
One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.’
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’
Don’t worry, be happy!