Tara Brach, meditation teacher tells of an old joke whereby a man gets a message from a family member, with the words, “Start worrying: details to follow.”
What is a(head)?
You might recognise similar messages, whether they be from a parent, partner, friend, boss or perhaps every news broadcaster.
Depending on our pre-disposition, we can perceive change as something negative or seemingly be on constant alert for danger ahead. In this way, our reptilian brain starts going into survival and protection mode and then we begin to speculate about a future. A future, which might or might not transpire in the way we imagine.
Our beautiful minds are clever in helping us to think ahead, prepare and plan for different scenarios logically, rationally and creatively. But we can overrate such capabilities because we fall into the trap of believing that by thinking about things, we can control them. We delude ourselves that our pre-emptive strikes in thought or action are managing our lives and will help us avoid failure or pain.
Any meditation teacher will tell you the same – 95% of our suffering is in our minds. While we are pondering, contemplating, thinking, judging, assessing and evaluating, we miss the richness, fullness and peace of the moment. And we create dramas, which are made entirely of thoughts we believe are true instead of being what they are, just thoughts. As Mark Twain famously wrote, ‘I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.’
The worry of worrying
In worrying, we destabilise our minds and hearts. We move far away from our own presence and resourcefulness. We project our own neediness. In worrying about others, rather than it showing up as care, it denies the other’s self reliance. It is dismissive of their resourcefulness and ability to cope or thrive.
In worrying, we negatively affect our own health. It makes us tired, stressed, speeds up the ageing process and can lead to depression. And it takes us away from the gifts which uncertainty and ambiguity can bring. Poet John O’Donohue observed, “We’re so busy managing our life so as to cover over this great mystery.”
As leaders we need to pay attention to our own tendency to worry or of those we lead. If we learn to observe our mind, we can become more skilled at choosing the state that serves us well. We train ourselves to be more skilled at being in the present and sitting with the unknown, than worrying or controlling. ‘Catching’ ourselves when we worry, becoming aware of it, is itself curative.
From this awareness, we open ourselves to possibilities about what to do next.