Med­i­ta­tion and won­der will keep the wolf of worry away

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY AN­DREW FIALA Spe­cial to The Bee

The head­lines are wor­ry­ing. Im­peach­ment is im­pend­ing. The stock mar­ket is slump­ing. Chaos in Hong Kong. Peril in the Per­sian Gulf. Con­flict in Kash­mir. One re­cent head­line said, “Meet­ing at UN re­veals world in re­ally bad mood.”

We are awash in worry. A re­cent Gallup poll showed that al­most half of Amer­i­cans worry a lot. More than half of us are stressed. One in five feels an­gry. These num­bers are up from pre­vi­ous years. The U.S. is in the top 10 of coun­tries that re­port high lev­els of stress.

Care, con­cern and in­dig­na­tion have a place in our moral econ­omy. But ha­bit­ual worry un­der­mines well-be­ing in a chain-re­ac­tion of anx­i­ety. The more you worry, the more wor­ried you be­come. In the same way, ha­bit­ual anger cre­ates raw tem­pers ready to ex­plode.

Worry is rooted in an old English word mean­ing “stran­gle.” Preda­tors worry their prey, grab them by the throat, shake and choke them. Worry is a wolf that tor­ments and throt­tles us.

Anx­i­ety causes shal­low breath­ing. The wolf won’t let you catch your breath. One quick cure is to breathe from the belly. Worry loosens its grip when you stop hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing.

A real­ity check can also help. The hu­man story is mixed. These are not the worst of times. Nor are they the best. This too shall pass.

We should also rec­og­nize what is within our power to con­trol. Fo­cus your en­ergy on things you can ac­tu­ally change. The world’s po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion is like the weather. If you ex­pect rain, bring an um­brella. But wor­ry­ing about the rain won’t change the weather.

Un­wor­ried ob­jec­tiv­ity is hard to achieve. We suf­fer from his­tor­i­cal myopia and psy­chic near­sight­ed­ness. The prob­lems of the mo­ment are mag­ni­fied in the wor­ried mind. We dwell on the splin­ter or the hang­nail while fail­ing to see the health of the body. The present cri­sis seems to be a sign of im­pend­ing doom.

His­tor­i­cal myopia is un­der­stand­able. The past fades into a blur. The fu­ture is even more opaque. So we brood over the present mo­ment. To worry is also to gnaw, chew and ru­mi­nate. It is good to think things over. But end­less re­hash­ing is un­healthy. Ob­ses­sive ru­mi­na­tion con­trib­utes to de­pres­sion and re­sent­ment.

There is wis­dom in let­ting go and in for­get­ting. The philoso­pher Friedrich Ni­et­zsche once sug­gested a happy life would be one that was lived with­out re­mem­ber­ing. A sim­i­lar in­sight comes from Tao­ism, where med­i­ta­tion has been de­scribed as a prac­tice of sit­ting and for­get­ting.

This sounds easy. But it is not. Trau­matic mem­o­ries

worm their way into con­scious­ness. Re­sent­ment grows along with re­gret. And the si­lence of med­i­ta­tion can be full of the deaf­en­ing roar of guilt, blame and fear. To learn to for­get takes hard work and prac­tice.

But for­get­ting is not the only way to si­lence the howl­ing wolf. An­other path seeks to trans­form worry into won­der. In­stead of seek­ing the si­lence of for­get­ting, the path of won­der seeks the joy of greater things. It turns to art, re­li­gion, moral­ity and phi­los­o­phy.

The poet Wil­liam Blake called upon us to see a world in a grain of sand and eter­nity in the palm of your hand. The philoso­pher Im­manuel Kant was awed by the starry heav­ens above and the moral law within.

Won­der, rev­er­ence and awe lift us be­yond the cares of the present. In­stead of hear­ing the howl­ing wolf of worry, the won­der­ing mind lis­tens to the mu­sic of the spheres. Beauty and love show us a hint of re­demp­tion and a prom­ise of mean­ing in the mad­ness.

Won­der and silent med­i­ta­tion will not solve our prob­lems. But they keep the wolf at bay. And this gives us the free­dom to think more clearly.

Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt said that we hav­ing noth­ing to fear but fear it­self. He fol­lowed that fa­mous line by warn­ing of the dan­ger of “name­less, un­rea­son­ing, un­jus­ti­fied ter­ror which par­a­lyzes needed ef­forts.”

Anx­i­ety par­a­lyzes us, which is what the wolf wants. Paral­y­sis lets the wolf sink its teeth in. It takes courage to con­front our fears. But it takes wis­dom to un­der­stand that worry builds noth­ing, that anger solves no prob­lems, and that the howl­ing we hear is of­ten the wind be­tween our ears.

JOHN ROBERGE Tala­has­see Demo­crat file im­age

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