Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.  — Glenn Turner

Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.  — Glenn Turner

A friend and I were talking last week about not being able to shut off our brains, aka obsessive thinking.
 
Sometimes it takes the form of what Buddhists call “monkey mind” — random thoughts swinging like startled simians from one tree to the next.
 
Others it becomes compulsive thinking on something specific about which we find ourselves creating all kinds of negative scenarios and dramas. Worrying, if you will, about stuff that, most times, never happens.
 
We agreed, with a chuckle, that we rarely find ourselves obsessing about all the positive things that are likely to happen. Nope, obsessing skews toward the negative. Sometimes, it borders on panic — at the very least an intense case of the dreads of facing certain portions of the day.
 
This got me thinking about something Franklin D. Roosevelt is often quoted as saying, so I looked it up. Turns out, it comes from his first inauguration speech in 1933. “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
 
It’s the second part of the quote (the part left out most times when its quoted) that really puts it into context for me: “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
 
Of course, FDR was talking about his efforts to steer America out of the depths of the depression and the common difficulties faced by all, but his words also ring true for the day to day effort not let fear “paralyze” us.
 
So what’s a person to do?
 
I’ve noticed most days that I have the dreads, simply going to work or tackling the problem with a phone call — and therefore becoming engaged — takes me out of my worry head and into my creative problem solving one. As the saying goes, you can't wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time.
 
When something does go wrong (which happens at some point about every day), I try and recall the words of my departed friend, Gene DeGruson, who, at such times, used say with twinkling eyes and a half grin, “Don’t worry about it. A hundred years from now nobody will know the difference.”
 
I have a couple of New Year’s resolutions that speak to the subject of angst. 1) When feeling anxious, breathe slowly and deeply and focus on giving negative thoughts more space. Allow them to pass through rather than run from them or wrestle with them. 2) Avoid black-and-white / all-or-nothing thinking as it’s fear based and robs situations of balance.
 
I also do daily yoga, walking, centering prayer, and Buddhist mindfulness work. I don’t always feel like it … but I do it anyway. Truth be known, I’m scared that if I stop, the anxiety will get worse. So, in a twist on FDR, my fear of fear actually helps me to keep doing the things that keep my fear at bay. How’s that for irony?
 
As with most things, a sense of humor comes in handy as well.  Take, for instance, what Charles Schulz creation, Charlie Brown, once said in a comic strip, “I've developed a new philosophy ... I only dread one day at a time.”  
 
Reading is another way I manage my anxiety. I can lose myself in a mystery novel for ten minutes or four hours, with subsequent relief from the day’s trials. I also start most days with some spiritual text — everything from Christ’s parables to Zen proverbs to books of daily reflections. Helps remind me that the only thing I have any real power to change is my own perspective.
 
Speaking of which, here’s a little story I found on January 15 in a wonderful book of daily wisdom and reflections titled “The Book of Awakening” by Mark Nepo.
 
An aging Hindu master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it.
 
“How does it taste?” the master asked.
 
“Bitter,” spit the apprentice.
 
The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take another handful of salt. The two walked in silence to a nearby lake, where the master told the apprentice to swirl his handful of salt in the water. Once he had done so, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”
 
As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?”
 
“Fresh,” remarked the apprentice.
 
“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.
 
“No,” said the young man.
 
At this, the master sat beside the serious young man who so reminded him of himself and kindly took his hands, offering, “The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things … Stop being a glass. Become a lake.”

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Wellness Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net.