Worry and Rumination

"Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no purpose." — Eckhart Tolle

Years ago, a good friend of mine walked me through the story of her husband's heart attack—how the morning unfolded, how she found herself calling 9-1-1, how she got herself to the hospital , and how she handled the medical decisions that had to be made. These are longtime friends of ours—our age—with whom we've raised our babies, survived potty-training, planned NYC trips, and celebrated milestone birthdays. I couldn't wrap my head around how this could even happen.

I remember listening—heartsick— as she told her story, and thinking, "I could never handle that." In my wildest imagination, I could not fathom how I would get through something so unexpected and traumatic. I tried to picture scenarios in my mind in which I would be OK, but I only came up with images of myself crumbling, unable to do the things required of me.

And yet, as my friend continued her story, I heard how—in the moment—she did handle it. It was surreal and uncomfortable, but she did the things that needed to be done. And—in her words—she found moments of profound peace, comfort, and even humor throughout the unfolding of that day and subsequent weeks.

What I saw that day and a hundred more times since then is this:

We have precisely the resources we need in the actual moments we need them—NOT in the midst of an imaginary movie playing in our head.

Minds—ALL minds— tell compelling, dramatic stories. That's just what they do. They worry about imagined future events. They ruminate about past events and how things could have or should have gone differently.

Then, they say things like, "I can't relax and be at peace until I get the biopsy results." Or, "I'll finally get a good night's sleep after I see for myself how my dad is doing."

The mind pretends that worry and rumination are helpful and relevant; that's how it keeps you on the hook to keep paying attention to it.

But here's the thing:

Your mind will keep you on the hook for as long as you're willing to engage. Minds are designed for constant, never-ending activity. They have nothing better to do than spin stories in hopes that you will pay attention to them.

Your attempt to manage, suppress, and control the mind's stories provide the energy that keeps them going. It's the gasoline on the fire, so-to-speak.

Two of the mind's favorite stories are "It could happen because it has happened before" and "Oh, this story must be really true and important because it keeps playing over and over again."

Every time you fall for and attempt to manage stories like these, it will feel awful.

Believe it or not, the suffering is not a cruel design flaw of the mind and body. The racing heart, the pit in the stomach, and the pressure in the chest are BRILLIANT.

The human body is ingenious in the way that it alerts us to the fact that we are lost in an imagined, made-up scary world in our head. The sensations and stress-related symptoms in the body are there to bring you back to reality, back to the this present moment in real life. The body's shitty sensations are GIFTS. (In my coaching forum, we call them the "shitty golden tickets").

Worry and rumination are never problems on their own. They don't need to be managed, silenced, or pushed aside.

The suffering we attribute to worry and rumination is actually the result of our fighting, resisting, and attempting to control them or make them go away.

Telling dramatic—even scary—stories is just a healthy, normal mind's activity. I think of it like a puppy chewing endlessly on a bone just for the sake of chewing. It's an activity—not a problem.

Once the mind is free to play any movie it wants, no matter how urgent or repetitive, the resistance to it and the attempt to manage it will end. In time, the movies will begin to fade away from lack of attention.

Your worry-movies have masqueraded as "helpers" for long enough. Let the movies of worry and rumination play as often as they'd like. Notice them. Smile because you're onto them. And then let them play, freely.

When the moment arises that an actual response is needed in real life, you will be moved, guided, and lived in the moment of requirement.

A few months ago, I was visiting my parents for our weekly breakfast. My dad collapsed on the floor quite unexpectedly. In the moment of requirement, actions were taken and decisions were made. I found myself calling 9-1-1, leading the first responders to my dad, and then lying on the floor next to him, telling him stories about Martha's Vineyard as the paramedics did their job. There were moments of deep peace, gratitude, and love. As the events of the morning unfolded, I was held. I was lived. And so was my dad.