Saturday, December 26, 2009

We Don't Know the Story, Yet

The Taoist sage, Wei Po Yang, once said, "Worry is preposterous...we don't know enough to worry." Yet, for much of our life we are almost constantly worrying about the the future - a future that is itself based on a remembered past. This is probably because we use our past experiences as an internal GPS device to help us get our bearings as a present-moment situation arises.

What happens to me, when I trust my inner GPS, is that I get caught up in the story my mind creates regarding the situation. Of course, the story that my mind tells me, and the actual experience when it finally occurs (if it ever does), never completely match. How can I write a fictional story about a non-fiction life, especially when I have no clue how it will turn out? I obviously don't have enough information yet to know how the story ends.

Still, my mind insists that it knows exactly what will happen later today, tomorrow, next week, next year, and so on. And yet, even though I'm usually wrong about the outcomes, my mind insists not only on telling the story, but believing it as well. As Mark Twain said, "My life has been a terrible series of calamities, some of which actually happened."

When the situation ends, and I see with hindsight that everything is fine (or even turned out for the best), then I have gained a little wisdom. Hindsight is always 20/20, but can it be possible to have the wisdom of this hindsight during a present-moment situation? I have found that it is possible, and that it takes practice, because the human mind does not usually come wired that way from the factory.

A strategy that works for me is to remind myself of two things: 1) My anxiety is always future-based; it is my mind creating a story about something that has not happened yet, and probably never will happen, and 2) I don't know the whole story, yet, because I don't have enough information. I then connect to some sensory experience that is happening in the present moment, such as feeling my body breathing. Connecting to a present-moment sensory object will automatically disengage the ruminating mind that insists on spinning out stories.

When we are able to ground ourselves in the present moment, we become less tyrannized by the imagined future based on a remembered past. We can learn to become less anxious by dwelling more in the reality of this moment, rather than in the non-reality of our thoughts. We still don't know how the story ends, but we are more at ease as we watch it unfold.

From Fragment on Nature, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
At each moment she starts upon a long journey, and at
each moment reaches her end... All is eternally present
in her, for she knows neither past nor future.
For her the present is eternity.

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