Attorney: “Are you worried?” Russian spy: “Would it help?” This is a running dialogue in the movie Bridge of Spies between Mark Rylance, a Russian spy and Tom Hanks, his attorney. Though the prospect of death hangs over the likable spy’s head he constantly holds onto a calm present moment demeanor throughout the unfolding of the film.
A great many of us worry. Our mind grabs onto thoughts that are full of ‘What ifs?’ and these usually are not happy potentialities, but gruesome ones. There is a struggle between our powerless vs our empowered self. But that particular struggle is fodder for another blog.
The fact is that we are afraid of the things we cannot control and the mind is believing it can help us by running over and over the worst-case scenarios. Yet perhaps worry can help us if the fears behind it are revealed and explored in a bold way.
In Bob Marley’s catchy and memorable song Don’t worry. Be happy. he sings:
little children, don’t worry, be happy
Now listen to what I said, in your life expect some trouble
When you worry you make it double” as he shuts down worry and replaces it with happiness. Wow. He was one lucky guy, to have been gifted with that outlook. He only lived for a happy 36 years and died of melanoma that had spread to his brain.
A Princeton study shows that someone who worries a lot about money, for instance, can lose cognitive function to up to 13 points of their IQ. And it has been shown in yet other studies, that people with high cortisol hormones (stress hormones) suffer from memory loss and injury to parts of their brain. Some believe that excessive worry shortens life span. And even other research concludes that approximately 85% of things we worry about never happen. Some people may even be addicted to worry as it does create an activation in us that can become habitual.
So, if all this is true, why do we worry and how does it serve us? It must have a purpose.
In a great article by Elisha Goldstein she acknowledges that there is no way to cure worry, but we can get better at observing when it arises and perhaps gently redirect our thoughts. Meditation can dissolve some worry merely by noticing it. So can deep breathing. For a time.
We are living in an anxiety driven world and certainly meditation has been proven to lessen the stress in our bodies and minds.
But eventually these worries will arise again if they are not put to good use.
When do we worry and does it help? It must serve some function or why would we do it?
In my experience, taking the worry out of the mind closet, airing it out, and making it big and visible is the way to make it useful. I believe anything we repress, shut down, or hide from gathers energy and steam and owns us unconsciously.
I like to put big sticky post-it notes (available online or at office supply stores) on the wall and write down all the things I am worried about. I have my clients do this with their worries as well. I take the worries out of my flooding brain and write them in large colorful, nonthreatening letters on the clean white paper. Then they aren’t stuck anymore in my ruminating mind.
Worries are set free.
Seeing my worries outside of myself gives me perspective. It acknowledges my imagined fears and separates them from me. Then I can chunk them down and begin a creative process of problem-solving around them. Instead of rejecting them, I value them in the daylight and see how I can feel resourced and empowered around the underlying fears.
Perhaps there is no fix for some of my fears, and I can acknowledge that and perhaps even allow surrender. Or I can be innovative around what is possible to manage, and usually, as a delightful surprise, some wonderful, inspirational “aha” is downloaded from beyond.
See the unseen. Hear the unheard. Speak the unspoken. My purpose is to take what is shoved down, rejected, and dismissed, and bring it into the light with love, compassion and curiosity.
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