Many people, perhaps the majority are infected with a virus – the virus of worrying. It’s nothing new and indeed has been going on at least as long as we first started actively growing crops and subsisting from agriculture, depending on such variables as weather and so on.
Perhaps people were infected with the virus before then in the hunter-gatherer phase too, no one remembers, but for sure as soon as people started organising themselves around the food-growing cycle and could thus support the semblance of permanent infrastructures, the virus has been in evidence. In the hunting and gathering, people were totally in touch with reality, fully present and there was no room for worry. But as soon as that urgency was removed from the equation, people were able to abstract reality and in that abstracted state, the spread of the worry virus was inevitable. To the extent, that having been passed down through the generations, many today actually feel intrinsically obliged to worry as an initial response to pretty much all incoming new information.
Now being aware of contingencies and taking available and appropriate steps to manage them should they arise is obviously a sound way to approach the future.
But worrying whether future events will overcome you, merely wastes your precious vitality, thus making you less effective when actually having to manage the contingencies that do arise.
When I was a kid, my dad had a friend called Mark. The amazing thing about Mark – and my dad often remarked admiringly on it as if it was one of the seven wonders of the world, was that Mark didn’t worry – he’s never worried about anything in his life in fact. Mark was also a really smart guy and in his unworried way had done very well for himself in the world. It swiftly occurred to me, observing his evident success, that worry was therefore obviously not an essential aspect of the requisite toolkit, because if Mark could do it – and I regularly checked to detect any signs indicating he might be in some way superhuman or possessed of unusual powers and never saw any – then so could anyone, including me and you.
Here, in this apparently virus-free man, was living proof that worrying was not an obligation.
So as an adult, I made a point of wandering round the park with him one day, the two of us strolling slowly round and round and I asked him what his secret was. he turned to me and smiled with a mix of good humour and simplicity and said, “I just don’t worry”. “But how do you manage that?” I pressed. “I just don’t worry”, he repeated. “But how?” “I just don’t”.
And it was then I realised it was a choice. This dreadful, deadly, vitality-depleting, life-draining virus could be overcome with a simple choice. Yes it was a choice that might have to be repeated again and again and that might occasionally not be so easy for those who are deeply infected but simple nonetheless.
The way it works is first through observing and noticing the worry when it arises – notice how it twists your gut. Ask yourself if you like that feeling or believe it serves a useful purpose. Take note of any actual valid warning contained in it – something practical you need to remember to do in order to manage any upcoming contingencies. Then let the guts relax, decide you’re going to succeed in whatever you have to do next, breathe out and with the out-rushing air, relinquish any residual worry you’ve inadvertently attached to the next step.
At first you find you have to keep doing it again and again, from moment to moment – after all this virus has been around a long time and isn’t going to give up without a good fight – but with a little practice, just as with learning any new skill, it becomes exponentially easier and more automatic, until you hardly find yourself worrying about anything – it becomes the exception not the rule.
You could even treat the virus as your friend, there to serve as a barometer of how relaxed and in command of yourself you actually are.
But it’s you who decides whether it rules you or you rule it.
So here’s to Mark and here’s to you, having the most worry-free day.