What? Me Worry?
by Laura Didyk
Worrying was my very first full-time job. Like most kids, my mind housed a colorful, concise, and active image center. One summer day, walking down the mountain road from our house into town, an image came into my head with powerful clarity, one that would stay with me for years to come. I saw myself from above, dragging a big bag behind me as I walked. The bag was the kind I’d seen mail carriers lugging from the side entrance of the local post office into their trucks—off-white and canvas and worn from its travels. Instead of mail headed to distant places, my bag was full of worries that weren't going anywhere anytime soon—worries about my family’s financial problems, the fact that we might lose the house my parents had built, my father’s struggle to keep his business alive and thriving, talks about having to move from the only home I’d ever known.
In the best circumstances, these kinds of worries do not belong to an eight-year-old, but it was not the best of times, and these were mine, for better or worse, to bear. What had once been a carefree handkerchief tied to the end of a thin, light stick—a small, soft bird, a mere peep of a worry, nesting inside the fabric—had become a large, durable bag, a gaggle of full-grown geese, mean and heckling and uninvited, trapped within it.
As a child, I held the innocent belief that if money could flow into my parents’ bank accounts, if more people wanted my dad to landscape their yards, if the bank decided to let us keep our home, if … if … if … then I could walk with a much lighter gait. And these conditions, had they been met, may have lightened me considerably. But they were not, and soon after I was working overtime. My mind—the neurons inside it, the troubled pathways those neurons traveled—had already found its favorite workout routine.
Worry has a very clear, albeit unattainable, goal: if I can somehow have the right thought; if I can come up with an accurate and formulaic series of correct ideas, the right combination in the right order; if I can just figure it out, the worries really could bust out of their paper packaging and break free.
I’ve been great at this job over the years—I worry over things that can’t be fixed in a day, or a week, or a month. I sometimes worry about things that are not mine to worry about. I worry about the future. I worry that what I’m doing now will become, in the future, a past I’ll wish I did differently. I worry about money—regardless of my financial reality. While writing this sentence, I worry I won’t get it right. I worry about the fact that I worry too much.
I have to constantly remind myself that the activity of worrying, the heavy mental machinery it requires, my addiction to that machinery’s grinding movement, is what causes me to suffer. The doubts that the machinery picks up like heavy stones and moves from one place to another, the fears it unearths for examination, the wing-flapping anxieties it keeps trying to bury that refuse to be buried—these objects of obsession are not the problem. The problem is the process itself.
At the center of the struggle is the unshakeable feeling that if I dare to stop worrying, if I abandon that bag on the side of the road, my worst fears will come to pass. I will forget my name. I will become so instantly light that the laws of gravity will no longer apply. I will be no one and nowhere. It’s not logical to think: without all that weight, who will I be? But sometimes I think it.
It’s true that many problems I worry over now are actual and real and have practical solutions over which I have total control. There are many things that need to be uncovered and inspected in the light of a new, calm, levelheaded day. More of the time than not, however, the objects of my worry are either not real (yet) or are not within my power to solve.
An emphasis on living one day, one hour, one moment at a time, is what is suggested by those wiser than I as a healing balm for the frenetic and exhausting process that worry can sometimes be. Stay in the day. Be in the present. Live in the moment. I have heard these phrases most of my life. And I’ve known on some gut level that they work—for other people. They didn’t work for me until I got desperate and was in enough mental anguish to give the present moment a concerted, authentic try.
As a result, the act of worrying is not quite as full-time as it once was. While the bag remains a constant companion, it is, for the most part, lighter and more manageable. It’s like an emotional flu—I can’t stop its onset, but I can do my part to keep it from getting worse. I pick out what’s solvable and take steps, however small, toward the solution. Then, I shift my mental focus elsewhere—I find something positive and far less exhausting to occupy my mind (a crocheting project, a poem, a good movie). By turning away from the weighty tug of the solutionless, by just taking a break, they sometimes find a way to fix themselves.
When the worry is stronger than that, I take the less-traveled route from brain to body, navigate my way out of the mental sphere back into the living, breathing, circulating cells of the present. I walk. I listen to music, sing, lay flat on the ground, remind myself that I am more than my dizzying thought process. I do whatever it takes to get out of my head and drop into the pulsing, tangible proof that all I need to worry about is right here. And when I’m right here, there’s really not that much to worry about.
Thirty seconds in Mountain Pose, for instance, is sometimes all that it takes. I roll my yoga mat out onto the unswept floor of my living room. I am where my feet are, I tell myself, then breathe my arms out to my sides and upward until my palms meet. Paying close attention to the sensations in my arms, the heat passing from one hand to the other, I let my elbows fan out until my hands land in prayer position at my chest. I am not a particularly reverent person, so this pose feels vulnerable and new every time. The mental machinery slows down. My grip on the bag releases. And I hear, almost always, over the steady sound of my heartbeat, something close to a miracle: the passionate honking of geese in the distance, flying fast in a beautiful “v” toward home.
Laura Didyk, MFA, former Special Projects Editor at Kripalu Center, is an essayist, poet, and a former athlete with a lifelong passion for nutritional health and optimal living.
© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. Originally published in the April 2007 issue of Kripalu Online. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.