“When you stop to examine your thoughts you start to see that they have a life of their own, they come and go, generally in a random, idiosyncratic way. Recognizing the constancy of our endless thinking process is said to be one of the important early steps we take on the meditation path.”
—Bob Sharples, Do the Thoughts Ever Stop
Have you ever realized that most of your anticipated misfortunes never occur, that some of life’s difficult scenarios never come to pass, or that most of your worrying is ultimately fruitless and life goes on?
Below, I present a simple exercise to help you discover the lifecycle of worry. I encourage you to sit down at a quiet place, somewhere you can relax and reflect. If necessary, fetch yourself a journal, special notebook, or a piece of scratch paper.
Consider a recent upheaval or stressful event. Go back in time and experience that moment for a minute. How do you feel? What preoccupies your mind?
Under the direct influence of your anguish, your mind is bewildered. You feel disoriented. Your mind is filled with apprehension. Bearing the burden of this stress, you cannot take your mind off the imagined ramifications. The wounds of your sorrow seem incurable.
Now, fast forward to a few days following the stressful event. What do you experience now? Your troubles no longer hold a grip on your life as before. You feel released from that moment’s immediate affliction. As you reflect the situation’s progress, you feel amazed by how your feelings have changed. What happened to the irreparable hardship?
Storms of Distress
Allow another interval of time to elapse. How do your feelings compare now? The original despair is diminished further. The event feels formless; your apprehensions are no longer recognizable. You may even find humor in your past misfortune.
A few days later, you are surprised by how easily these storms of distress passed. You wonder how these depressing emotions could have possessed you. The events are not undone and the external circumstances remain unchanged. What has changed is your mind’s condition?
Idea for Impact: “This too shall pass”
“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”
It is your mind that relates external circumstances to your internal being. Joy and sorrow, hopes and despairs, elation and desolation, pleasures and annoyances are nothing but outcomes of your sensibility. Outside forces are challenging to conquer—our control over the exterior world is narrow, and merely illusory. However, the evolution of your thoughts and feelings and your responses to distressing situations are within your power.
The next time you experience a hardship—a conflict, a distressing situation, or annoyance, recall what happened with your prior hardships. Recognize that everything happening in your external environment is but impermanent. Say to yourself, “This too shall pass.”