Someone dear to me is ill, experiencing troubling symptoms that have been hard to lock into a diagnosis, let alone a treatment plan. My reaction has been totally predictable: worrying. No surprise there. It seems that worry is somewhat of a default response among human beings, a recognition on some level of how fragile our lives really are, of how much hangs in tender balance and how little control we have over it all.
I’m well-practiced in delivering all the appropriate self-talk about “a larger plan,“ “not mine to control,” blah, blah, blah… but taking my daily walk recently, I got to thinking about what worry really is, what it represents.
Let’s start with Dictionary.com’s definition:
- give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.
- a state of anxiety and uncertainty over actual or potential problems.
Aha! Right there is a clue for me. When I worry, I allow my mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles. Allow.
What if I didn’t do that? What if I looked those uneasy thoughts in the eye, recognized them for the threat to my equilibrium, expectations, and plans that they are and let that all go, consciously spending my energy on thinking about what is within my power to do, rather than allowing my mind to run rampant with all sorts of unfounded “what if” thoughts?
In Bridge of Spies, the 2015 movie based on a true story, Tom Hanks, playing New York lawyer James Donovan, is negotiating for the release of American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. He has a number of startlingly frank conversations with the Russian spy (Rudolf Abel, played by Mark Rylance) who is to be given to the Russians in exchange for Powers. Donovan asks Abel if he is worried about what will happen to him when the Russians get hold of him. “Would it help?” he asks. “Would it help?”
That phrase, uttered by someone up to his eyeballs in real – as opposed to imagined or hypothetical – deep trouble stuck with me and often comes to mind when I’m tempted to “allow [my] mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.”
Worry and fear live in the future. Okay: if the building you’re standing in is on fire, that is something to worry about, and “now” is the time to do so. By and large, however, we worry about what we think is going to happen, not what is in the process of happening right at the moment.
As the spy wryly observes, this doesn’t help. We need to stick to what we can do. Of course, the frustrating thing is often that seems to boil down to “nothing.” Well, nothing tangible, anyway. Beyond the tangible, however, lies the place of inner peace, always within reach if we seek to connect with it and commit ourselves to being still enough to “get there.” Rumi captures it perfectly: “Let silence take you to the core of life.”
Somehow, I think that is what the spy was able to do: to see his predicament from a different plane, acknowledging what he could not control and committing his energy to staying in the moment. It’s the work of a lifetime, a lesson to be addressed again and again, over and over.