What Is the Use of Worrying?

It’s amazing how right spiritual teachers and traditions can be even when I’ve spent years thinking they were wrong. Take for example this whole idea that we create much of our own suffering. My evolving relationship to this truth has gone from “Yeah right, did you miss war, famine, etc.?” to “Well maybe so” to “Well would you look at that.”

I did not have to look far this week. I was attempting to stuff my purse and my lunch bag into a drawer at work, but they didn’t fit. I wanted to make a cup of tea and get some items checked off the list. I pushed harder on the unyielding bags and thought, oh come on, I don’t need this. Then it dawned on me that I was creating the problem. The drawer was not getting any bigger no matter how much I wanted to put more stuff into it.

Whether or not I accepted it, reality wasn’t changing. The drawer’s solid, physical existence made it clear how silly we are to resist what is.

It was a small, insignificant event, but as Richard Rohr says, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” My resistance to the limitations of three-dimensional space is mirrored in so many aspects of my life: trying to do too many things in a day, wanting other people to act a certain way, wishing I could do things the way other people do them. The list goes on.

In all of these situations, I tend to react with frustration, worry, or some other form of resistance rather than acceptance. In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama cites the teaching of Shantideva, an eighth century Buddhist scholar who said, “If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?”

We skip looking at what’s happening and go straight to worry, or at least I do. Until we accept the situation instead of fighting with it, we can’t even determine whether or not change is possible through some effort on our part.

Sometimes we can change our circumstances, and sometimes we can’t. Until we see what they are instead of what we want them to be, we’ll never know.

One thought on “What Is the Use of Worrying?

  1. Your story about the drawer makes me think of my own attempts to renegotiate aspects of reality that are non-negotiable. Why for example could God not have created pie that was both delicious and non-fattening. As a result, I often eat pie with a vague sense of resentment at this design flaw.
    Your essay also makes me think of sources of suffering that aren’t so clear cut, as far as our own role in creating them is concerned. The gestalts of personal history we are immersed in wield such power over us and are often responsible for overwhelming suffering. Take PTSD for example. A pathology that is indeed generated by the mind/brain/body based on memory of past traumatic experiences. In this case it seems that both the world and the mind conspire to generate suffering. That is, it is rooted both in reality and in imagination, so to speak.
    Ultimately, it is with such mental constructs and dynamics that Buddhist practice aims to contend and unravel. But it is a long term, hard fought and fraught endeavor, not a singular act of insight or will.

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