If there was some way I could get back all of the time in my life I’ve spent worrying, I’d have some serious time coming my way. Worry is especially toxic because it somehow makes sense to us when we’re worrying. If we were able to see worry for how senseless and silly it is, we probably wouldn’t worry in the first place. But it doesn’t work like that. Worry disguises itself as healthy concern, which most reasonable people have. When we’re ruminating or anxious about something that may happen in the future, part of us thinks we’re being cautious and conscientious. We want to predict. We want to be prepared for all of the possible things that might eventuate in our lives and the myriad ways danger or misfortune could visit us.
Of course, what we really know is that we don’t know. Worry relies not so much on educated speculation but rather on imagination; the conjuring up of scenarios much like a writer of fiction may do. Actually, worry is fiction. It’s a fiction that cleverly masks itself as non-fiction; a narrative that makes sense because we want to control. Worry is a product of the need to control.
So, should we just not care? No. Care is vastly different than worry. Worrying about traffic and not driving your car because you’re convinced you’ll have an accident is different than making sure you wear a seatbelt. There’s no point to avoid driving because you might have an accident because there’s no way of knowing if it’ll happen. But having enough concern for your safety to buckle up is merely being responsible.
Worrying that your roof will blow off in a storm is pointless. You have no reason to believe it will. But it’s probably a good idea to have your roof checked and replaced if necessary.
We may even worry if other people like us or not. We can’t control their feelings or make them like us but we can have enough regard for them to treat them well. We care enough to be a good friend or potential friend. In the end, whether they like us or hate us is ultimately out of our hands.
Worry and concern are two different things. We should have a healthy level of concern in taking necessary precautions that are within the realm of being responsible. But once we’ve taken those precautions or logically considered the possible ramifications of not taking those precautions, there’s little we can do. And acting as though a horrible thing will happen, as if we were psychic or able to tell the future, makes no sense and amounts of needless effort being spent that could be dedicated elsewhere.
I have not completely conquered my worry but I have come a long way. One thing I’ve learned to do is ask myself “can I control the outcome of the thing I’m worried about, given my faculties and present circumstances?” More often than not, the answer is a resounding NO. It turns out, at least in my experience, that the things I can control, I never worried about. Why? Because they are usually things that have immediate remedies. Subjects of worry rarely have an immediate and rational means of solving them because they haven’t happened or at least not in the way our mind is illustrating our fears.
Where does mindfulness come in?
Worry is prognostication and that means, when we worry, we are focused on the future. Maybe a minute into the future or days or years. At any rate, to ruminate and prognosticate about a time and place other than where we are makes little sense because, as I started earlier, we can’t tell what the future is. Spending time in the future is little different than spending time in fiction. In fact, it’s the same. The future cannot be known, so it must be imagined into existence.
Being mindful helps us remain in this moment. Not in the past and not in the future. We maintain presence in this domain where the past and future are immaterial. If we have no concept of the future, we cannot worry about it.
So, let’s focus on what we can do. But not on what the future may or may not hold. Of course, it’s always easier said than done.