Recent world events do not leave us much wiggle room for optimism. Every day, from one continent to the next, terrible things happen that affect us. It can be beyond devastating when our loved ones are in the firing zones – everything becomes more pronounced. And it isn’t only weapons of mass destruction, but it includes climate change, financial uncertainty, and fear of what the future may hold for our children and grandchildren. The erosion of trust and confidence in our institutions and elected officials is exacerbated by fake news and the influence of commercial influencers. No wonder so many people are sleepless, suspicious and at the same time, lonely.
Rilke describes it well – “as if standing on fishes as if the ground had a life of its own and were swimming away underneath (us).”
This sounds pretty dire coming from me; I know that. And it isn’t exactly what I mean, either. I am a realistic optimist, but I am not an everything will turn out ok kind of person. Furthurmore, I am discouraged, as the news worsens, and especially because I know people impacted by all this awfulness. I am finding it challenging to write my blog post today for fear that anything I say will be trite. Nevertheless, my default is to start where I am, right where I am sitting, vulnerability and all.
Worry is natural.
Clearly, we can’t turn it on and off like a light switch, and when terrible things happen, why wouldn’t we worry? Our brains are designed to focus on problem-solving and find ways to overcome the problems. We want to reassure ourselves about the future and do what we can to have a good one. The problem, however, is so much of what we worry about is out of our control, besides the world stage, politicians and the weather…
Take other people, including those we live with, our health (yes, our health), the unexpected expenses, the loss of a job, a phone call that changes everything… Don’t get me wrong, there are myriad ways in which we can influence outcomes, including our health, but we cannot prevent, control or guarantee results.
Much of our worry is fueled by our desire to control the uncontrollable future. We want certainty and guarantees. And sadly these are not available to us. As Oliver Burkeman writes in Four Thousand Weeks, “you can never be truly certain about the future. And so your reach will always exceed your grasp… a surprisingly effective antidote to anxiety can be to simply realize that this demand for reassurance from the future is one that will definitely never be satisfied—no matter how much you plan or fret, or how much extra time you leave to get to the airport. You can’t know that things will turn out all right. The struggle for certainty is an intrinsically hopeless one—which means you have permission to stop engaging in it. The future isn’t the sort of thing you get to order around like that, as the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal understood:
‘So imprudent are we,” he wrote, “that we wander in the times which are not ours…We try to [give the present the support of] the future, and think of arranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching.’
Yikes! It is so true.
I also found this excerpt from Darlene Cohen to be a good reminder when we are in a vulnerable and emotionally laden situation. Of course, without practice, we can’t turn this better response on and off, which is why we may want to work with the smaller everyday intrusions on our plans that can sometimes send us into a tizzy. Handling the “grain of sand in our shoe” teaches us how to scale the mountains ahead, one foot after another.
Here is Darlene’s reflections:
Many of us tend to bombard a difficult situation with a compulsive and blind effort that buries its particulars in all the flailing about. Making much too much effort all the time in every situation is not only exhausting, but it is a way of avoiding true engagement with our lives. We’re so involved in our response, we can’t tell what’s actually going on in the situation we’re reacting to. This strategy has all the earmarks of panic. We strive and we struggle and apply ourselves utterly, which eliminates all opportunities to actually experience the often distressing hills and gullies of a demanding situation.My own experience of doing this is that it protects me from feeling my fear at not being able to handle the situation; I can’t bear to actually feel that twinge of terror that seizes my stomach, especially if the outcome is important.A big part of what you must learn if you’re to be less worried about controlling everything is how to let go of your compulsive need to feel in control. You might be better off making the effort it takes to learn when to stop making effort, when to allow things to just happen.”– Darlene Cohen
This also is True
We do keep trying and making an effort, but maybe Cohen is right. There may come a time when we need to allow things just to happen. Take health. Even when we do everything right according to our best information, we can still get sick, have an accident, grow old and eventually die. However, when we live moderately, we improve the quality of our everyday life, and when we have a health challenge, we are in a better position to work with it. When we do our part, we up our chances of better outcomes but no guarantees. And a day will come when we may decide that the right effort is no effort and to stop the treatments that aren’t helping us or to decline treatment.
I like this final reminder that Burkeman gives us: “much of what you value in life only ever came to pass thanks to circumstances you never chose.”
Having said all this, it is important to acknowledge our common humanity. We are not unique in the world of worry and wanting security. This is the human condition. I did a little research on the state of the world through the eyes of history. Sadly, we have never had world peace. There are always wars and trials and tribulations.
So, this takes me straight back to where I always land. We can’t count on tomorrow; life is the “full catastrophe,” and our best bet is to do what we can, where we are. to cheer each other on. Be a little kinder, lend a hand and never forget to do what we can do. Laugh often and love much as my friend says. Spend time in nature to rejuvenate and notice the gifts all around us. Today and every day is a precious and special day. Let’s make the best of it.
Thank you for reading along. Best wishes for you and your loved ones, Trudy
1:)”This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled. But there are moments when we can… reconcile and embrace the whole mess, and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah.” Leonard Cohen