From flooding rain waters in my basement to concern about global conflicts, from a late contract payment to long-term stability of the economy, it doesn’t matter the size or the scale of a problem. There is and there always will be something to worry about. Of all of the five hindrances, the trap of worry seems to me one of the easiest to fall into on a daily basis.
There is an old Zen story that I have heard told many times, which goes something like this.
There was an old farmer who had many children and a large plot of land. One day one of his best horses ran away and couldn’t be found. His wife and children and all of his friends said, “what a great misfortune.” The old farmer just answered, “we’ll see.”
A few days later the horse was seen on the edge of town leading two wild horses. The old man’s family and friends all said, “what a great fortune, your luck is changing.” The old man said, “we’ll see.”
While riding one of the new horses, the old man’s son was thrown from the saddle and broke his leg. The old man’s family and friends spoke of how unwise the old man had been to try and gain the extra two horses, “you’re trying to tempt fate, your fortune is bad,” they all said. The old man replied, “we’ll see.”
A week later, an officer from the army came to take young men away to fight and because of his broken leg the old man’s son was spared. “You are so lucky,” his family and friends said. “We’ll see,” the old man replied.
What I like about this story is the idea of accepting each gain and each loss as independent. They are singular events that do not necessarily lead to either something positive or something negative. We worry because we project into the future. Something is only positive or negative to us based on projection of the outcome of the event. But we can’t know the future. Our worry is based on the false belief that we know what will happen.
The other day as I started to shift into worry mode regarding the outcome of some medical tests I thought that no problem has ever been solved, helped or changed by worrying. None. Zip. Zero. Nada. No problem is influenced by worrying. Not one iota.
We only use up our energy and create no positive outcome. This doesn’t mean we don’t plan for the future and take prudent steps. I think there is a difference between planning for future outcomes, doing forecasting of what outcome might be more likely, or weighing the strengths and benefits of one outcome over another. These are all prudent, rational actions. I work professionally in the field of forecasting, so I think that can be a good thing, but worrying about the outcome is quite different.
In the Bhagavad Gita 12:18-19, Krishna speaks to Arunja and describes a man who is at peace saying that man is:
The same to both friend and foe,the same in disgrace and honor,suffering or joy, untroubled,indifferent to praise and blame,quiet, filled with devotion,content with whatever happens,at home wherever he is—that man is the one I love best.
The antidote to worry is contentment. This is not a fatalistic belief that yields all control to the outcome. Our ability to influence an outcome through our efforts is very different from worrying about an outcome. I do the necessary preparation, I take the appropriate action to influence an event in a way which I see as positive, but then I release myself from attachment to the outcome. In a long section in Chapter 3 of the Gita discussing the proper actions, Krishna says:
Without concern for resultsperform the necessary action.(3:19)
We have to live at this edge. We work every day to change things for the better. Through our work responsibilities and through our relationships we strive to improve things, to increase the probability for a positive outcome. This is good. But we can’t worry about the outcome.
Something goes wrong, ”we’ll see.” Something goes great, “we’ll see.”