I’m a little worried today. The usual stuff: money, relationships, time management. I caught myself biting my nails, which is usually a sign that I’m taking the worries personally. Nothing that I ever worry about is actually occurring in the moment; it’s always something that might happen in the future, or more likely, will never happen.
The amount of time I spend identifying with the dark future trip in my mind has decreased immensely since I took up a daily mediation practice. When I realized how much time I wasted thinking about worst-case scenarios, I was appalled. I went though a period of judging myself and attempting to force a new way of thinking. That didn’t really work. I found myself worrying about worrying! After working with trusted meditation teachers, I learned how to allow the negative thoughts to exist without out attaching meaning to them. I stopped being a slave to my Worrywart Self and started to get to know the more useful editions of myself.
There is a time to use your mind to solve problems or complete tasks. This is not the same thing as sitting around trying to “figure it out.” We often believe that we can think a relationship into working, fear of financial insecurity into vanishing or a career situation into going our way. Whenever I slip into that mode, I know that I’m headed for a land of wasted time and gnarly, chewed up fingernails. Of course I’m not going to figure it out, instead I’m going to miss out on the awesome life that is happening right now. While I know this, my brain sometimes keeps going down the problem-solving road, even when most of me wants to take another route.
When this happens I choose to use the worry to my advantage, making the most of it that I can. Instead of trying to control, manipulate, or supress what’s arising, I treat the mental talk, images and emotional sensations as wild, uncharted territory to explore with my awareness. I bring curiosity to the arising and passing of the sensory experience, rather than getting caught up in the mental details of whatever problem my brain is chewing on. This changes the experience from energy draining into energy producing. You can actually use the worry as an object of meditation to sharpen your concentration and increase your equanimity. Shinzen would call that working smart.
I do my best to work smart every day, in every situation. Some days I do better than others, but the important thing is that I continue to bring curiosity and sensory clarity to my day, even when a lot of me wants to turn into a throbbing head trying to fix an issue. If you can find even a speck of healthy detachment and open curiosity during a tough day, you are doing great.
This is a process. There’s no graduation day when we get to cease having a human experience. I work on loving my Worrywart Self as much as I love my Easy Like Sunday Morning Self. It’s all interesting and all worth our mindful attention. Next time you feel a bout of scary what if’s coming on, try treating it as an exciting adventure. My fingernails thank me every time I do.