What, Me Worry?

Ever since I wrote this post about taking a worry vacation, I’ve been thinking more about why we worry. Of course there is a reality to why we worry. When I watch the tiny birds outside my window, I think about their worries. They need to be ever vigilant or some other animal might eat their food or even eat them!

In the history of our ancestors on this planet, it would seem the hyper-vigilant of the species must have survived longer than the lazy ones. But in this day, I have very little to worry about.

I realized yesterday that I live in a time and a place where I have less to worry about than just about anyone else in the history of planet earth. I’m warm, I’m safe, I’m well-fed and I’m happy. Yes, many of us have hit the sweet spot, and yet still we worry.

I wonder what percent of why we worry is based on completely faulty reasoning. Some say we worry to feel in control because our attention is turned to solving a certain problem. While we think we are solving the problem, we have the illusion that we have control over it. Worry can be reinforcing. We think due to the fact that we worried properly, we got the desired outcome.

The faultiness of this logic became far too obvious to me when I recently learned that I could not live without supplemental oxygen. It had never occurred to me that I would ever have trouble breathing. I had maintained a healthy lifestyle at 5,000 foot elevation and certainly never smoked. Then, after a few years living at 6,500 -7,000 feet, a doctor observed that I might be hypoxic. Very observant. But it still took a couple years and too many different medical tests to prove to me that I needed to live on full-time oxygen.

See how that theory about worrying properly worked out? Ah humanity! How we labor to convince ourselves that we’ve got this, and yet we still all have to die of something…

Since then I have tried to keep my heart open to change, because it’s coming whether we like it or not. These are my watchwords now:

“Even in seemingly dormant times, we are in transition. Losses and gains are in constant play. We are the change-agent, and we are changed. Even without toil, we transform. So wisdom advises us to open our hearts to transition; to honor fully what is passing, to learn from all that unfolds, and to welcome what arrives at our door each day with courage and curiosity.”

Can you risk a whole afternoon without worry?

Sometimes it seems like I was born with a lot on my mind. Starting with the “terrible twos” I have been perpetually asking why. I think too much, I worry even more, and I can still never figure out what may happen next. I guess I was raised to expect the worst, or else this is simply the human condition – more brains than we know what to do with!

So on this blissfully relaxed snowy day, miles from almost all human beings, I wonder what might happen if I stop thinking and worrying and embrace the peacefulness of this moment in time.

Should I risk this level of non-vigilance? What might happen if I stop thinking for a while? What if I feel as free as the falling snow for just one afternoon? There’s always tomorrow to get back to my worries…

Courage is the mastery of fear

Morning rituals help me center myself for each new day. Since moving out into the southern Colorado foothills with few neighbors, I feel privileged to be able to view an unobstructed sunrise every morning as a part of that ritual.

Often I think, “It won’t be amazing today” and then I turn around in my bed and see something like this.

Living here has made me even more grateful for my life and that it has led to this place full of love and acceptance. It has also led to some tough physical challenges for me. The simple act of breathing has become more and more difficult. I can no longer live without supplemental oxygen. For a while we wondered if it was lung cancer.

There is nothing like the ‘c’ word to make you sit up and take notice, and the challenges of simply breathing every day naturally call my attention to my own mortality. Many years ago I was a follower of Stephen Levine, a well-known poet, author and teacher best known for his work with those with life-threatening illnesses. For over twenty-five years, Stephen and Ondra Levine provided emotional and spiritual support to those who were dying and their caregivers. I highly recommend his books to you. I went to hear him speak in Boulder once for an all day event. That was the beginning of my own internal conversation about my own death. I still enjoy listening to his meditation called:

“Take each breath as if it were your last”

I used to feel so afraid of death. Then my experience of moving quickly in and out of consciousness with a traumatic brain injury provided some strange reassurance. Death is simply the final loss of consciousness. Death is inevitable and really quite simple. I accept it now, and try to love each day that I have left to be alive.

I need to imagine myself in the future doing what I love. For me, now, that is a radical act of courage.

Mindfulness & Higher Levels of Consciousness

To continue my train of thought from my last post, I choose to believe that we humans are uniquely supplied with a brain and conscience so that we might go beyond our reptilian or primal brain. Yes, we must maintain our innate and automatic self-preserving behavior patterns, which ensure our survival and that of our species. But I know we can be so much more!

A part of my learning at Naropa University in Boulder, was the study of higher levels of consciousness, most notably with Ken Wilber. There I learned of the research into what can happen in the human mind when we are able to shut off the constant thinking, wondering and worrying, reaching beyond this primal state of mind.

Buddhist monks have shown us that we can achieve an infinitely expanded true self through deep meditation. This is in accordance with Buddhist philosophy, which focuses on being liberated from one’s insignificant self consciousness to attain a higher state of being, thereby reaching an “infinitely expanded true self”.

The Buddha taught that consciousness is “like a stream of water” with different layers or levels. Mind consciousness is the first level, using up most of our energy. Mind consciousness is our “working” brain that makes judgments and plans; it is the part of our consciousness that worries and analyzes. The brain is only two percent of the body’s weight, but it consumes twenty percent of the body’s energy. So using mind consciousness is very expensive. Thinking, worrying, and planning take a lot of energy.

We can economize this energy by training our mind consciousness in the habit of mindfulness. Mindfulness keeps us in the present moment and allows our mind consciousness to relax and let go of the energy of worrying about the past or predicting the future.– Lion’s Roar

As strange as it may seem, my own trauma brain injury in 2008, helped me to access this higher level of consciousness more easily. Partially because I don’t have the energy to think and worry as much as I used to, I can simply slip into a state of mindfulness as I choose. Call it what you will, this is a great relief! I tire quickly with too much interaction or “thinking” and then I give up and just live in the present.

I have also found living close to nature to be quite mind liberating. City life kept me in a constant, often unconscious, state of anxiety and vigilance. It took me a few years of living away from cities and most other people to relax that vigilant mind state and just be here now. Sometimes I may still feel sudden city anxiety, but I quickly recognize it as not needed and let it go.

To learn more about all of this, I can highly recommend the Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar and this particular article called: “The Four Layers of Consciousness”

Need some distraction? Try book bingeing with “Euphoria” by Lily King

So glad I had a great book on hand to distract me from the amazing inefficiency of our elections these days. How is it that Colorado can finish counting ballots in 24 hours and nobody else can???

Anyway, if you like an adventure novel that consumes you from the very first page, try “Euphoria” by Lily King. This is the story of three tormented anthropologists who come together doing tribal fieldwork in the jungles of New Guinea in the 1930s. Although a work of fiction, Lily King acknowledges that she was inspired by the work of Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune and Gregory Bates.

I was one of those college kids who just couldn’t choose a major. That perhaps explains why I changed schools four times before I completed my B.A. One of my first majors in college, along with psychology, was anthropology. Why didn’t I pursue these interests? I didn’t think I would do well in a jungle doing fieldwork. I also hated the fact that I might work my whole life and still never know if my theories were correct. These are the same issues that haunt our three main characters. How do you approach isolated native societies and interpret their behavior? Are they better or worse than us? Who decides?

This novel includes mystery, adventure, and much discussion of life and purpose. But for me the best part was the study of the psychology of these characters and their indepth discussions of ethnography and ethnology.

The central aim of ethnology is to understand another way of life from the point of view of the person experiencing that way of life and as such, always implies a theory of culture. Ethnography takes a step away from the sort of research that describes subjects and behaviors and focuses on actors and actions.

I also enjoyed the various tools the author used to help the reader understand the deepest feelings and interactions between these three characters, using anthropological notes, letters and personal notes.

This was a book I didn’t want to end, and especially when I turned the TV back on at the end, and Pennsylvania and Nevada still couldn’t find a way to GET THEIR VOTES COUNTED!~

We can send a man to the moon but we sure can’t count votes in a timely manner… Please don’t give me the COVID excuse. Colorado has the same problems as everyone else.

“Make yourself useful!” A post for overly responsible boomers

Two themes have been competing in my brain for decades:

Do we need to “make ourselves useful” all the time? Or is it OK to simply relax and enjoy our lives?

Let me begin by acknowledging that I was brainwashed as a child that everything we do should be “useful.” Laziness was not allowed, and laziness was very broadly defined. Pursuits like games, art, music, cinema, anything that was simply pleasurable and not academically motivated was a waste of time. Productivity was key, but only certain types of productivity. Now I find some of these same strict definitions among my fellow Boomers, who are having trouble getting comfortable with aging, illness and retirement.

First of all, I have studied the psychology of American boomers for years. One conclusion I came to is that we have been identified unfairly as an extremely self-centered and irresponsible generation. The boomers I know are now taking care of their parents if they are still alive, environmentally aware and responsible, and feel a strong need to feel useful in this world. That flower child, druggy image does not stick. Perhaps we are more self-aware than our parents, and more aware of our impact on this planet, but totally irresponsible, no.

Speaking for myself, I grapple daily with guilt over my own idleness even though I also struggle with hypoxia and the long-term affects of a traumatic brain injury. Besides the usual, “Why me?” questions, I feel lazy if I cannot complete at least a few household chores every day. Guilt feels like a permanent companion to my illnesses. Luckily my husband Mike is the direct opposite of my inner critic. He encourages me to feel good about simply still being here, and helps me make the most of it. He keeps our vehicles and home running smoothly…

while encouraging me to focus on hobbies that give me pleasure like photography,

gardening,

cooking and writing this blog.

Mike also understands my struggle with every day guilt, partially because he was not raised that way. He believes that retirement should be joyful and guilt-free. He believes we earned it “after slaving away our entire working life!” I can learn a lot from him.