What comes to you when you see this guy? A denial based on ignorance? A cultural symbol for the naïve? For stupidity?
An excuse for burying your head during an election year?
I’ve been wondering: Why is it that “worry” is such a universal?
I’m not against taking life and the big decisions seriously. Trust me. But sometimes Worry seems to be a force unto itself. Without noticing, in a nanosecond, a fearful thought becomes a clench in the jaw, a knotting of the brow. A tightening of the gut, of the world.
Sometimes it’s called Anxiety (or panic). Even without a real reason, the mind can become totally crazy when it has the playground of an imagined future to worry about, especially when it’s got proof from the past that bad things will happen.
At that point thoughts begin to cluster. The YouTube of the past offers movies, either real or imagined. Catastrophe. Once there, all the thoughts that scare you come out to have their way with you. This is what I call worry.
Some situations just bring it on. Accidents or illness can set off a worry cycle. Today I’m reflecting on my time with my son at the Burn Center when the entire staff was surprised he survived. And on and on through the litany of family crises.
The last couple of years we’ve had more than our share of auto accidents, and the physical injuries seemed to land me right back into my worry-go-round.
Now I’m remembering those ubiquitous worry beads called kolikoi that I noticed every man fingering while backpacking through rural Greece forty years ago. They originated with monks, much like the mala beads of yoga. I’ve discovered a half-mala is just about what it takes to manage the inner worry wart when I’m meditating. Why not some kolikoi to jazz things up?
Mala beads also bring to mind my daughter. She’s a yoga teacher and chant leader. After being hit head-on last December, she’s still struggling with post-concussive symptoms. She’s an adult and doesn’t live with me, but she’s needed a check point as she goes about her normal life, as well as her musical career, these last few months. This keeps me busy enough that I’m not so likely to worry.
Sometimes to keep from worrying about worry, I look at it with a magnifying glass to discover its true nature. And my initial theory gets confirmed again and again. Worry seems to be an act of imagination. In a perfectly lovely present, my mind races forward to the future and imagines a frightening outcome. If I don’t believe everything I think, I’m way ahead of the game.
But just in case, I have some little helpers. Did I mention Worry Dolls from Guatemala? These tiny figures listen to our worries, take them off our hands, and go under a pillow to work their magic and dissolve those worries while we sleep. There’s nothing like tucking my worries away like they’re ultimately that little. They usually are in the greater scheme of things.
For many years now I’ve thought a button that could switch off thinking would be a most excellent idea. Often I meditate with the hidden goal of slowly letting go of the thoughts that cascade through my mind. With the attendant hope of dropping into the peace below, into wordlessness.
And then along came the month of March, which took me and turned me upside down and shook me until my pockets were empty of words and most thought. During the last two weeks of the month I unwillingly discovered a new route to silence. This body put on quite a show: coughing, shivering, fevering its way back to health. It was my first flu in years. I had forgotten how stupid the mind can get when the body’s resources are needed for another battle. Becoming wordless was the least of my worries, and it was happening without doing anything, or at least anything my body could control.
The first half of the month, before the flu, I had sought and found a more desirable kind of silence when I was on vacation in Maui. I spent vast stretches of time staring at the ocean from my perch on the hill above. Gradually the mind slowed down, stunned into silence by beauty. With mind confronted by the beauty of clouds and rainbows and whale-spume fountains, words seemed less and less important. This was the wordlessness of awe, the stuff of poetry:
Wanting a profound reflection to speak from the tropical sea,
I search for a Venus of meaning
emerging from the froth,
the dark deep source of watery mystery
And what is here is
White dove calling, Minahs preening.
Goats bleating and chickens strutting.
Beneath the ecstatic shiver of palm fronds.
Eyes shift for the long view,
And there’s the proof that a line once went for a walk
And etched a silhouette: a perfect island just across the bay.
The sun slowly exposes her reclining form
Lanai shelters my head and calls my soul.
Then the rose gold slowly fades
As the day picks itself up from the chaise lounge,
And moves into itself.
Now, here in the world of apparently ordinary reality, as body heals, I’m still steeping in the quiet hangover of peace, finding once again that it is available any time, any time I remember.
All around us, everything small and buried surrenders to a process that none of the buried parts can see. We call this process seeding and this innate surrender allows everything edible and fragrant to break ground into a life of light that we call Spring.
~ Mark Nepo
Spring here in the Pacific Northwest is slowly unfolding its many layers of stunning beauty. It can last for five months. This year began with the arrival of the snowdrops in mid-January. Then one daffodil volunteered for a walk-on role in my kitchen garden. Now the long act of March opens the stage with the bulb brigade, filling yards and fields with daffodils, accented by jewel-toned hyacinths. It’s a cacophony of color all month as the season of the blossoming trees begins with camellias, and ends with the final bow of rhododendrons in June.
But there’s a backstage and hidden part of spring that I forget when I’m distracted and delighted by the pastel heaven of the show. It’s easy to forget the seeds still in the ground, patiently waiting for their cue. The earth is bursting with potential, but each little seed or root must be allowed its full time to be nurtured.
Late winter’s gift is just this: the sweet energy of deeply resting and growing strong roots. I trust the dark to do its magic with the seeds and bulbs still nurtured by the earth. I would no more dig up the seeds to check them in the light of day than I would unearth my partially-dreamed future. I’m not ready to leave behind the peace of the surrender to “the part we cannot see.”
And so I need to remember that these gifts are still accessible, beneath the riotous glamour of early spring. In my inner world, this is what I long to savor: the mystery, the miracle of rest, the not-knowing of how or why I’m growing, or even which way I’m growing. I want to linger a while to appreciate this, even as my attention gradually shifts to welcome the prologue of summer.
I have learned not to dig into the dark earth and expose the seeds that are still gathering strength and readying themselves in the dark of soil and earth. The same is true for my deepest, quietest inner life. It is still imagining into its next creation.
No me moleste, Leave me be, my soul sings. The deep invitation of winter surrender must be respected fully before I’m ready to move forth. I turn my faith to The force that through the green fuse drives the flower (to quote Dylan Thomas). It is this force that I’m trusting to bring it all on, in all the glorious manifestations of spring and summer. When the time is right.
It was 6:00 this morning, and my dog Calvin was sitting on my head. Lucky for me that he only weighs 16 pounds, I thought. He’s also very fluffy, so a head sit can feel oddly cozy. I started wandering back toward my dreams.
For maybe a minute. Because then I remembered that head sitting only happens on the Fourth of July, in thunderstorms, or for other such apocalyptic events. Then Calvin began pacing. On my head. He seems to believe that this is where “I” live. And I have no idea how he got that impression.
Okay. Enough. Time to listen. There was something amiss in the field. Not smoke, but a smoke alarm battery signal. A few years ago our son barely made it out of a house fire alive. First chance we got, we planted them obsessively everywhere. If I lay very still I could hear it: one tiny beep every minute. All the way on the other side of the house. Up very high.
This is how I came to be standing under the high beam in the living room wielding a broom, before the sun had come up. I always knew those witching tools would come in handy, I thought. Eventually I batted down the whining smoke detector and searched for the switch. No such luck. In fact, no luck at all finding my way into the battery compartment or into anything else that made sense. The alarm box was locked tight, as far as I could tell. This is the point where I would normally call out to my ever-trustworthy fixer of a husband, George. But this time there was no quick salvation. He was out of town for a few days.
So this dilemma was totally up to me to solve. I considered, and then rejected, the idea of dropping the white plastic case from a two-story window or clubbing it with my handy broom.
Still no smoke appearing anywhere, so I placed the box in the sunroom, already closed for the season.
Back through the house to the back bedroom and to the coziest universe I know, to the magic land that exists in my ridiculously soft bed.
One more chance for sleep; it’s still not too late.
Except for the head sitting. Which began all over again. And then the pacing of the soft white fur ball.
And that is how the thick blanket in the back of my yard ended up in the far corner of my garden. It peeps every minute, until further notice. Or until I can find a Smoke Detector Shaman or magical directions from the internet ethers that will solve the problem.
But. Standing out there in the below-freezing weather, awake now, an amazing miraculous thing happened. I was actually fully alert for the glow that spread over the oak savannah across the way as the sun came up. I pulled a shawl around me and stood there. I was nothing. Nothing but receptivity in the moment.
And then while I stood bathing in the frigid beauty, the light turning pink, I looked across the meadow behind my house, and there it was. A rainbow.
A minute later, the infernal, internal beeping started again.
Time to get going, it said. To focus on those goals. Get organized. Be productive.
But then, stillness. Another voice arose.
Is the desire to be in comfort, to stay asleep; is it stronger than curiosity?
How many times does a Call need to come when I’m not listening?
The Universe just keeps sitting on my head. Until. I. Get up. Get my feet cold. Do…however reluctantly, what is the next thing to do. The next thing, all day long. Follow the simple directions and listen for the beep when I don’t pay attention.