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How to stop worrying and start living

Updated: Mar 2

Worrying causes most of our suffering

Top of garden path, with rose arch, two green watering cans. Trees faded in misty distance. Faint view of plants in the garden.
On misty mornings at Evergreen, it's hard to see what's happening in the garden. When we worry, we're making a mist in our mind, which stops us from living. Photo by Rob.

I don’t like suffering.

I like life to be as smooth and painless as my pink silk pillowcase.

So why am I suffering?

I cause myself more suffering than anyone else does.

I do this by worrying.

If all the sufferings caused by human worry were laid head-to-tail, it would probably circle the observable universe three times and have enough left over to tie a large bow.

Worrying Causes Suffering

Worrying – especially if we do a lot of it over a long period of time – can cause high blood pressure, loss of sleep, mental confusion, heart attacks, weight loss or gain, depression, headaches, and digestive issues. And they’re just for starters.

I experienced unpredictable stomach upsets for several years. The G.P. queried me about my diet, listened to my lungs, poked my tummy, and then sent me off for blood tests, scans, and an endoscopy. All the results came back negative. I was healthy. My body parts were doing what they should. There was nothing wrong with me.

This was good news, but what was causing the shooting pains, vomiting, and hours of sleepless discomfort that each bout of illness dished out?

The doctor’s diagnosis was that I was what he termed a Drama Queen. I took myself too seriously and worried too much. I was the cause of my suffering. I was what was making me sick.

I proved his diagnosis right by stomping off, highly offended.

However, after a bit more suffering, I sat down, thought about it, and had to agree with him. I worried too much. There were too many troublesome thoughts repeatedly whirling around inside my head.

What was causing this was that I had run away from the God of the Bible who’d ruled my life since I was a child.

But, although I had performed this brave act of defiance and survived, I still worried that He might be watching me and making marks against my name in His little black book. Also, because He’d been the main prop in my life and my main go-to whenever things went wrong, I was floundering in a morass of indecision. For the first time in my life, I was in charge of myself, and I didn’t know how to run the show.

Sick of suffering, I decided to stop worrying.

I took control. I became my own go-to. I stopped looking up at the sky in fear. I made decisions and took the consequences.

In other words, I started living.

In When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön wrote:

Suffering begins to dissolve when we can question the belief or the hope that there’s anywhere to hide.

When I stopped looking for a place to hide, my mental suffering ceased – and so did my stomach pains.

Worrying Is a Form of Hiding

Worrying is a form of hiding.

We think our worrying keeps us safe.

We envisage that the worrying we do is forming a sort of invisible shelter around us, protecting us from being bombarded by whatever it is that we fear.

We think our worrying creates a barrier between us and what is.

But it does nothing of the sort.

Worrying causes us suffering.

Worrying makes us sick.

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Worrying is such a habit that the only way to stop doing it is to keep doing it – but to do it consciously.

Notice when you are worrying.

Pay attention next time a little worrisome thought pops into your head. Watch it carefully. Where will it go next? How is it making you feel?

Don’t think about it, just watch it.

Be the watcher, not the thinker.

When you pay attention to worrying, it has a habit of fading away.

Worry doesn’t like focussed attention. It likes to operate in the shadows. When you drag it into the limelight it curls in on itself and scuttles away like a novice actor with a gargantuan case of stage fright.

Pay conscious attention to worry and it will slink away.

And so will your suffering.

With love, Marlane

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