Don’t Worry. Be Present.
Last weekend I stayed with a friend in a wellness resort.
There was a lovely tunnel through which we could walk from the hotel towards the wellness area.
On the walls of the tunnel on both sides it had beautiful pictures of all the elements (water, fire, earth, wind) and quotes of wisdom.
One of the texts that was written on the wall on one side of the tunnel read the following:
“If it can be remedied,
why be upset about it?
If it cannot be remedied,
what is the use of being upset about it?”
Every day, as I walked through the tunnel, I stopped for a few minutes to read it.
Eventually, I wrote it down on my notebook. In the past week, I opened my notebook several times a day to read it.
This Buddhist text captured me. Somehow I found peace within these lines.
The topic in this saying is about Worrying. And this topic is essential in Buddhism. According to the Buddhists, the root of worrying is ignorance.
Buddhists perceive everything in life as an illusion. What we see as solid and permanent is only present for the time being. Nothing is concrete and eventually it will cease to exist.
Since we see everything as solid and permanent, we tend to take life too seriously. We attache ourselves to our life’s situations and worry about them. It is because of our ignorance that we worry about things.
In Modern Buddhism, Geshe Kelsang says there are two types of problem, an inner and an outer problem:
We should understand that our problems do not exist outside of our self, but are part of our mind that experiences unpleasant feelings. When our car, for example, has a problem we usually say “I have a problem”, but in reality it is the car’s problem and not our problem. The car’s problem is an outer problem, and our problem, which is our own unpleasant feeling, is an inner problem. These two problems are completely different. We need to solve the car’s problem by repairing it, and we need to solve our own problem by controlling our attachment to the car.
If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.-Marcus Aurelius
You worry by channeling all your focus on one particular object. Everything other than this object doesn’t seem important. The objects we worry about vary, and there’s no limit to what we might worry about.
90% of the things you worry about are out of your control so it’s not helpful to worry. The other 10% you can control so do something about it instead of worrying.
The Buddhist rule is: Worrying is simple: don’t.
Or, as Shantideva said more eloquently, If it can be fixed; why worry? If it can’t be fixed, what’s the point of worrying?
Or, more properly: “If a cure exists, why worry? If no cure exists, what use is there to worry?”
Don’t Worry. Be Present.
We probably all worry unduly sometimes, which makes us all worrywarts. According to Buddhists we worry because we need a definite answer.
We humans need certainty. Unpredictability makes us feel uncomfortable. If we cannot predict what lies ahead, we start overthink stuff and cannot relax.
I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.-Mark Twain
We feel the need to change the past or to control the future, and we attempt to change something through worrying.
Trying to change the past or the future is, according to Buddhism, the deeply rooted cause of worrying. Which makes worrying in inner thing, not the result of an outside factor.
The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.-Buddha
In Buddhism, worrying is our own doing. Personally, it took me a while to understand that the past (and the future) are only kept alive in my own mind.
If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.-Lao Tzu
To stop worrying is difficult, but it’s not impossible. If we worrywarts adopt a few notions from the Buddhists, you would be astound by the changes that can take place.
Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts.-Buddha
Here is what we can learn from Buddhism to relieve us from the unpleasant state of worrying.
How to eliminate worrying according to Buddhism
Understand that worrying won’t solve a thing
Everyone worries. A conflict at work, a doctor’s appointment that concerns you, or an exam that you need to take, can all be reasons to worry.
The difference between thinking and worrying is that thinking leads to a solution, while at peaking there is an endless series of thoughts that keep going through your mind. ‘What if …?’ ‘Imagine that…?’
The intent of most people who worry is probably to put their thoughts in order, get their head on straight. Or to prepare for a situation.
But nothing is less true: worrying does not lead to solutions or new insights. Much worrying can lead to stress, anxiety and gloom. Moreover, worrying takes a lot of time and energy.
Take on a helicopter view and get a pure view of your life
Try to limit yourself in life to the essence of what you find important. Find out what life is about for you, and focus on that.
When you focus your attention and energy on a few points, you will perform much better and get more out of your life. You get a pure view of life because you give little or no energy to all things that are not important.
Accept that you’re not in control of everything
Psychologist Ellen Hendricksen of Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders explains that there are two types of control.
When we think of ‘control freaks’, we usually think of types who always want to keep everything under control, but there is also another form of control which involves accepting things that can not be controlled.
‘Primary control’ is about trying to change the world around you. ‘Secondary control’ is about adjusting to what is happening around you.
Research showed that people who have a higher level of secondary control are more satisfied with their lives than people who score higher on primary control.
So if you want to experience control without stress, look inside instead of outside. Accept that you simply can not control everything. This will help you stay calm when things go differently than planned.
Try to be flexible and to move with what happens. If you move along with the flow of life, it will give you energy, for if you try to change the world around you, you’ll loose energy.
The paradox of this story is that you can therefore experience a sense of control, by choosing what you are concerned about and what not. If you assume that everything is a choice, including your thoughts and feelings, you decide how you experience things.
Focus on the present
Life screams to be seen and heard. It wants to happen to you and to be yours.
But you are so busy worrying about the future, playing scenarios in your head, making predictions about future disasters that the future is slipping through your fingers, just like water.
If you focus on the present instead of the future, you will feel and experience things that you would otherwise not be able to or miss out on.
Worrying about the future is not necessary. Give yourself the opportunity to be grateful for what you have now.
Everything is temporary. We have our own life in our hands. Life is an endless amount of time presented to us in an immense, fertile space full of possibilities and opportunities.
Don’t let life go by while worrying about the future. Focus on and enjoy the present.
Don’t worry, smile and be happy!
The Serenity Prayer.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Buddha on Worrying was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.