"Taming Worry" is a three-part series for day-to-day living that explores Renunciation, a very practical Buddhist main path.
"Part 1 - Meeting Your Edge," reframes how you relate to issues that cause angst, leaving you worried and stuck;
"Part 2 - The Practice," explains how to move forward and bring whatever is holding you back into your experience; and
"Part 3 - Small Shifts, Bold Moves," ties it all together, showing how this practice can help you cope with life's day-to-day issues as well as its larger challenges.
Worry. It can eat you alive. Taming this beast is one of the most useful life skills you can acquire. Before I tamed mine, I could find myself circling back to thoughts over and over again. Stuck and anxious, swirling in a whirlpool of worried thought, I'd relive the past and imagine the future over and over again. It can be debilitating. That’s why I was so excited when I came across a life-changing practice - an indispensable tool that dissolves my anxiety by reframing and transforming how I think about life’s challenges. It has tamed my worry beast.
This gem came from a book my middle daughter received from a dear friend. Inside the front cover was a handwritten note:
I opened this book and it whispered your name...”
Years later, when I was dealing with some very difficult issues, Lauren was inspired to share it with me. After digesting “The Wisdom of No Escape,” I understood why. The insights in Pema Chödrön's little book are profound, and this particular topic inspired me to share a portion of Pema’s wisdom from Chapter 11, “Renunciation.” An odd term to western ears, renunciation is a Buddhist main path that is enormously useful in day-to-day life. In practice, it has two parts built on a foundational concept. The first part of the practice involves awareness that, when we're stuck, we're saying "no" to what's before us. The second part describes how to get moving again. I only touch lightly on the practice here because it is explained in detail in "Taming Worry - The Practice." This post is focused on the key concept that underpins renunciation.
At the center of renunciation is a reframing of what it means to be stuck. I love Pema's description of this state. She calls it "meeting your edge." She uses a fable to drive her point home. Here’s my version:
Four people climb a 10,000-foot mountain that gets steeper and more treacherous with elevation.
Half way up, they rest on a ledge and look out over the landscape below. One climber is paralyzed with fear and can’ t move off the ledge. The group of three continues on, leaving the one behind.
At 9,000 feet, they stop again to rest and take in the panorama. When they prepare to ascend the last thousand feet, one of the three can't move. He is exhausted, spent, and paralyzed with fear at the extreme conditions before him. As close as he is, he can’t move off this ledge, so the other two push on, leaving him clinging to the rock.
At the summit, the last two climbers celebrate and dance on the top of the 10,000-foot mountain. They are exhilarated to be there and filled with joy.
Your edge is simply the limits of your current experience. The climbers who couldn't summit met their edge at different places. The two who made it didn't meet their edge at all this time. Just like the climbers, we are all affected differently by the circumstances in our lives. One issue may bring one person to their edge while another remains comfortably within their experience. Another circumstance may have the opposite effect on the same two people. Where you meet your edge makes no difference. The experience of meeting it is the point. Your life is a journey of meeting your edge again and again, coming up against the limit of your current experience. As Pema points out, that’s where you’re challenged. That’s where you grow. That’s where, if you allow it, you experience the full richness of your life.
Your edge is as unique as your individual experience. I imagine it as a thin, curving line that closes on itself on a flat plane. I stand inside that shape. All of my life experience is enclosed by my edge. Everything beyond my direct experience is beyond my edge. So in some areas, areas where I have a lot of experience, my edge stretches out a great distance. In other areas, where I have very little, it is much closer. In either case, and everywhere in between, I can meet my edge by going to the limit of my personal experience in that area.
Renunciation deals with coping with the limits of your experience, where you meet your edge, where you get stuck, unable to move forward. Then, as "Taming Worry - The Practice" describes in detail, it is a two step process. The first is awareness - awareness that being stuck at your edge means you are saying "no" to whatever or whomever would allow you to move beyond it. The second step follows awareness and involves a softening of your thinking to the point where you are willing to say "yes." "Yes" to whatever is holding you back. "Yes" to whatever is preventing you from bringing this challenge into your experience and expanding your edge outward to encompass it. "Yes" to whomever could help you move on.
The next time you feel stuck, swirling in a whirlpool of worrisome thoughts, or up against a brick wall, feeling stuck with your head spinning, try this. Stop and reframe your situation. Picture yourself safely within the limits of your experience. Picture yourself at your edge, looking out. It's just a line. No mountain. No wall. No whirlpool. Let those old images dissolve away. Lift your head and soften your gaze over that edge to the world of experience beyond your limits. Tame the worry beast by quieting your mind and facing forward. Softly say "yes" to whatever is holding you back. "Yes" to whomever is offering assistance. "Yes" to the fullness and richness of the expansion awaiting you beyond your edge. "Yes" to life.