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.

Resisting Ourselves

It’s been a good couple of weeks for resistance, the fingers-in-the-ear, la la la I can’t hear you variety. I’ve been putting some pretty serious energy into noticing others’ faults, imagining different ways to order the world, and telling myself I should be doing almost everything better or at least differently.

During these times, I usually ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” a question that feeds the dissatisfaction loop while allowing me to believe I’m on the track to self-improvement. Practice with a seasoned teacher before attempting this advanced technique alone.

In the midst of this fight with reality, a new question occurred to me, “What am I resisting?” The answer that came back was “myself.”

Only one thing is happening in the cosmos: incarnation—divine love being poured out as our every breath and heartbeat, as Jim Finley would say. In other words, to quote those great spiritual teachers the Borg, resistance is futile. We can’t resist our own coming into being, can’t order the enzymes in our cells to stop breaking apart and putting together molecules. And yet I often approach life as if I can.

We are always on the leading edge of becoming, not through any effort of our own but because we are part of the continual process of creation. Life is movement. Each ending begins the next step, and so we are always incomplete.

Perhaps resistance isn’t resistance at all but a misunderstanding of the yearning that comes with our always transitory state. Life draws us forward; Love won’t let us rest unless we enter into the movement we are already a part of and accept that in our unfinished nature, we are already whole. This is not resignation but recognition that creation is not about completion, and that includes us.

We are not a life but the flow of life. We are here not to satisfy a yearning but to yearn. “The palms of your hands are God’s horizon,” Finley says. Horizons are never reached. God is always moving toward us. We are always moving toward God. Resistance is futile.