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Spontaneous Overflow Reflecting in Tranquility

The Official Blog of Michael Schoenhofer, Executive Director

Thoughts in Uncertainty #7

Worry and Uncertainty. The perfect couple. The power of a mindful moment.

I have been training myself to worry for a long time. I worry alone. But during this time, I worry with many people. I worry about my future and the future of my children and the future of the economy. I worry about the climate, and I worry about the pandemic and well-being of everyone in the world. I worry about racism and antisemitism. Will we ever find a vaccine, a treatment, a cure, and an openness to people as they are?

I base my worry in fear and my need for certainty and control amid so much uncertainty and hatred. I believe that somehow worry will help me solve my problems or at least prepare me for the worst. “Maybe if I just agonize over a problem long enough, think through every possibility, read every opinion online, I will eventually regain control.” This hasn’t worked for me. And it saps my energy and robs me of enjoyment of the present. I was looking at my yard; it is more like a meadow than a lawn. In the spring, there are little purple flowers that yield to yellow dandelions and then to white and pink clover. Finally, red wild strawberries grow there. I discovered that a broad-leafed plant growing there called plantain has many health and healing properties. The fantastic thing is that I didn't plant any of it; it showed up on its own. It gives me such joy and pleasure to watch the diversity of changing textures and colors right in my backyard.

I have bird feeders and love watching the sparrows, finches, cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, turtle doves, robins, and woodpeckers enjoying the sunflower seed I put out. One morning three bright orange Orioles showed up and stayed for a week before they moved on. At night I can hear an owl hooting nearby, unseen. On the ground, the squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks play. One morning we watched a family of raccoons cross the yard. Occasionally a hawk swoops in overhead looking for a meal. The lightning bugs came out last night, a sure sign of summer's arrival.

I live in town and have just a small yard, yet there is such a diversity of wildlife and color. This is all happening around me. Everything shows up. Near all of this wildlife, I've planted a vegetable garden with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, kale, spinach, chard, lettuce, and beets. We have a bed just for herbs—parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, cilantro, lavender, and oregano that we use to flavour our cooking. Even though I planted it, and water it, everything grows on its own and at its own pace.

Just sitting on the back patio, I can watch all the diversity of life happening around me, which doesn't require much of me. It just happens.

All the time and energy that I invest in teaching myself to worry I could spend noticing what is happening all around me—stepping back a moment to take a breath, be attentive, look carefully. It might not be what I expect, but it is always surprising, colorful, and full of sounds. I get so caught up in my head, my dark thoughts, the “shoulds” of my life that I cannot notice that life continues living around me and doesn’t even notice me most of the time.

This is comforting and gives me a moment to relax and feel the ground under my feet. I feel supported even when it seems everything around me is shifting and changing and out of control. There has never been a better moment to practice mindfulness. It gives me a break from all the “storytelling” I do — remorse and guilt for past mistakes — fear, worry, and anxiety about the future. All of which is a defense against opening to this moment as it is, whether or not I like it, whether or not I planned it. It is a break from:

  • Evaluating my performance,

  • Taking offense at rejection or criticism

  • Glowing with self-congratulation at compliments or acceptance.

Despite our best efforts, none of us has lived the life we intended. And our worry, planning, and storytelling have not changed that. Life is an endless discovery; always surprising and unpredictable. Start here: Don’t react—Say: “I’ll just sit with this a moment.” Let go—Think: “All of life is uncertain.” Stay here—Ask: “What is happening here and now?”

Try this short (eight-minute) Meditation: Coping with uncertainty meditation from Help Guide. Sources: Listen to the Desert, Gregory Mayers Help Guide—Coping with Uncertainty

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