I just realized that the definition of worry is being afraid of things that exist entirely in my imagination. They’re not real. But I’m treating them as if they are.
Neuroscience has learned that the brain does not distinguish between things in our minds and physical events in the world, which is why visualization can be such a powerful and effective tool when used properly.
But worry is essentially taking the power of visualization and using it to visualize our fears, which the brain reacts to as if those fears were physically happening right now.
I don’t mean to say that some of my fears aren’t valid concerns. But even things that might or could or I think probably will happen, are not, in a very real way, real. They haven’t happened. I’m just expecting, behaving as if, pretending that they have, and reacting as if.
Including all the stress hormones and fight or flight or freeze responses and being snippy with people and working myself up into fits or tears or complaining at anyone who will listen (or to myself, if no one will).
In the Star Trek: TNG episode “Imaginary Friend,” a little girl on the Enterprise invents an imaginary friend to cope with moving homes frequently, but then an alien presence reads her thoughts and embodies that imaginary friend, convincing her to do things she know she is not allowed to.
When the ship’s counselor, Deanna Troi, talks to her about it, the girl complains that she was afraid not to do what her friend told her to. She was afraid of loosing her best friend.
Deanna replies that “Sometimes the things we imagine can be just as scary as things that are real.”
I would argue that the things we imagine are often more scary than what actually happens.
This hit home to me now because I’ve been listening to myself complain a lot lately (even more than usual) about not having enough money, and I realized recently that that complaint is based in the fear that if I spend anything now, I won’t have enough when I really need it.
So I don’t hardly spend anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. In fact, I’ve been hovering around the bottom of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs—at the survival level—the entire time I’ve been on this Journey.
Ironically, that is expressly because I’ve been committed to hovering around the top of Maslow’s Pyramid—self actualization—and therefore choose not to have regular employment, hence my money issues.
And that choice not to work is for the very good reason that I need to sort some things out inside me, including a lot of sensory therapies, in order to be able to work again. I am still not physically or emotionally stable enough to know reliably in advance whether I will feel well, have any energy, or not be breaking down, on so-and-so days between so-and-so-hours. I am also convinced that if I push myself to try regular employment at this point, even something easy, I will quickly put myself back in a physical health crisis.
However, I am feeling well enough that I’ve decided to test the waters with a short-term project—creating a calendar to sell—as an experiment in working freelance as a potential future income scenario.
With my sensory issues, freelance work feels like it may be the right fit for me. That way I can give myself enough time to keep my commitments while still having an occasional bad day or late morning. And I already have a few projects in mind that I could play with. This thought gives me hope for the future.
Yet for the last two years I’ve been complaining that I don’t have enough money, and have been worried about money, and have put a lot of effort into making the little I have stretch as far as possible.
I don’t care whether I ever get rich, I just want enough that I don’t have to worry about money all the time.
And that’s when it hit me. I don’t have to worry. Even now. I choose to worry. I have been choosing to worry for two years—and longer really, as I’ve been hovering around the poverty line most of my adult life. So long, that I’ve gotten so used to not having much money that anyone with even a steady, minimum-wage job seems well-off to me.
And every time I see a parent drop $10, $20, $30 bucks on a kid in a National Park gift shop after a quick glance results in the demand “Can I get this?” I feel sick and angry and want to shout, “Do you know what I could do with that? I could eat for a week on that $30!” But I keep silent and collect my free passport stamp in the National Parks passport book that I bought more than 10 years ago, and leave without spending any money.
Oh, yes, it is sooo easy for me to slip into complaining. It is familiar. Comforting, in a way. As if spewing that poison into the world somehow makes my situation a little better. But it doesn’t. Poison doesn’t do anything but increase the amount of poison, the amount of negativity, the bad feelings in me and around me.
I don’t want to be wrapped up in this tight web of poisonous negativity any longer, and I don’t have to be.
The choice is mine.
I’m not talking here about choosing to bottle up my complaints and worries so as not to give vent to my anger and frustration and fear. I am talking about choosing to let go of the anger and frustration and fear in favor of…what?
Complaining and worrying won’t bring me more money, and stopping those won’t suddenly make twenty dollar bills manifest in my pockets, but perhaps it can create space for something else that I want.
Joy, bliss, love, world peace? Yes, I do want those things, but I was thinking of something a little more immediately practical.
As I followed my train of thought from “I don’t want to have to worry about money anymore” to “I don’t have to worry about money,” it occurred to me, like a sudden but obvious revelation, that no matter how tight things have been, no matter how low my bank balance has gotten, I’ve always had enough.
Not always for what I wanted, but always enough for what I needed.
Not always in ways I expected or would ever have planned on or wished for, but there has always been enough.
And I trust that there will always be enough.
Aha, there’s the immediately practical takeaway from this lesson. I can trust. I can trust that my God will always provide for me what I need.
Isn’t trust the antidote to worry that Christ and countless saints and mystics and wise persons throughout the ages have all touted repeatedly and in numerous contexts? The lilies of the field and all that…
Yeah, well, sometimes I need to experience something firsthand to really get it.
Right now I have planted a seed of trust and it is taking root, but it will take time to grow, and as it does so it will become stronger and taller and blossom into a beautiful flower.
I’m not particularly looking forward to learning that lesson the long way, but I trust that He will be with me the whole time, providing enough.
This isn’t wishful thinking. That’s different. It seems to me that wishful thinking is just another version of fear, a coping strategy that is based in the freeze version of fight or flight or freeze. It says, “I feel powerless to effect anything, but the possibility of what could go wrong is too much for me to handle, so I’m going to believe that everything will work out.”
That’s not helpful either, and it is another form of disempowerment.
How is trust different?
I think trust has to be earned. I’m not just hoping that I’ll have enough money to eat and nothing bad will happen to my van so I’ll have a roof over my head. I’ve actually experienced, time and again, that when things have looked grim, something has happened to give me what I need in that moment. The right person, the right help, the right whatever. It keeps happening. God keeps providing.
And trust has to be learned. He’s been providing for me my whole life, but I haven’t paid much attention except at moments here and there when I really need help or go through a gratitude phase. At least until recently. Now I’m paying attention because it really matters. And with that attention, I am learning that, time and time again, help comes.
The rational part of me then asks, how do I know it is God providing, not just a series of happy coincidences? Okay, this one has been nagging at me for months. And the short answer is, I don’t know.
The long answer is, what I call God is a shorthand name for a being who is intelligent, intimate, and pervades everything. He knows all, sees all, and works for the good of those He created, which is everyone. Including me. And though He chooses to limit His own power by not forcing anyone into anything, he also actively nudges people into helping each other out, and makes all sorts of things happen that I can’t even fathom. So no matter what circumstance worked out in my favor, it is a direct or indirect result of the Good in this world, which is a direct result of His activity. So although I don’t know the circumstances surrounding each good thing that happens to me, I am willing to attribute them all to God’s work, and to be grateful.
And gratitude is a magnifying glass for joy, as my priest frequently reminds us.
And now I’m rambling. Am I rambling? Sorry. It helped me to sort through my thoughts and feelings, though.
The bottom line is that I am choosing to let go of worrying about and complaining about money, and to trust that I will have enough. With other things, too, I choose to live more in the present moment than in imaginary scenarios that trick my brain and body into living in a state of fear over things that do not exist.
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