"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.
In "Taming Worry - Meeting Your Edge," I referenced Pema Chödrön's little book, “The Wisdom of No Escape,” to introduce the practice of renunciation as a means for taming worry. Its focus was renunciation's foundational concept, "meeting your edge." This picks up where that left off, putting renunciation's two parts, awareness and softening, into practice. The following excerpt sets the stage:
"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...
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.""
The Practice in a Nutshell
Part 1: Awareness
Recognizing that being stuck is saying "no"
Worry, and it's consequences, can come all at once, or it can sneak up on you. Either way, it can take up residence for a long time. This is why the first step in renunciation is awareness. To produce the conscious thought that "I am stuck and saying no."
How can you catch yourself, hear the "no" and nip it in the bud? Awareness. Vigilant listening. Staying alert and taking notice when you are holding back, closing off and pulling away. Listening for "no" and "not" in your inner voice:
"No. I can not do this."
"No. I will not face this."
"No. I can not go further."
"No. I do not know how to deal with this."
This awareness paves the way to "yes."
Part 2: Softening
Opening up to "yes"
You can't say "yes" until you're clear you're saying "no." Awareness provides that clarity. Then your task is to stop, soften our thoughts, and begin to say "yes." "Yes," I will turn toward this and begin to face it. "Yes," I will open up to what is before me. "Yes", I'm afraid, but I will go forward anyway. "Yes," I will begin to welcome this challenge into my experience, knowing that growth and expansion follows.
Awareness to saying "No"
Pema's analogy for getting stuck is powerful - “meeting your edge.” I love that imagery for hitting your limits. Rather than swirling in a vortex of worried thought, you are standing at the edge of your experience, faced forward.
So your first step when you're stuck is to recognize that you have met the current limit of your experience, your edge. Take a moment now to recall a time when you met your edge. Picture one real experience from your past that walked you to the edge of your experience and try to recall how that felt. Perhaps you were faced with entertaining friends or family for the first time in your home and you were overwhelmed. Perhaps you were faced with the prospect of committing to your first lease, your first car loan or your first mortgage and you were confused and stressed. Perhaps you had to make a health treatment decision for yourself or a loved one that left you feeling stuck and scared. The issue doesn't have to be monumental. The idea is to feel it, to recall the emotion before we move on.
Now let's bring this closer. Let's practice awareness right now. Read the next paragraph in its entirety. Then pause and do the exercise. Take a moment afterward to gather yourself before continuing.
Bring a current concern to mind that has you "stuck" and is resulting in a vortex of worried thought. Run it through your head as you have so many times before. Close your eyes if you must, but stay with me and limit this to a minute or two. Turn it over. Immerse yourself. Then, while you are still in the midst of that experience, look up, come back to me and read on.
Welcome back. Now you must invite whatever you're resisting into your experience. We'll start by changing your model, your mental image, for what it means to be stuck. Many exist. I've suggested a whirlpool because it resonates with me and parallels the vortex of worried thought that is common to all models. But it could just as easily be a brick wall. Regardless, they all result in circular thoughts that have the same way out.
The first step is the circuit breaker. You must temporarily stop your circular, worried thoughts. Snap yourself out of it, reset, and become consciously aware you are stuck. Literally stop and tell yourself, out loud, "I am stuck!"
Next, take a step back and shift your focus from the issue itself to the mental image you routinely picture when you're stuck. Don't dwell here, just give it enough form that you can mentally separate yourself from it. A whirlpool? A brick wall? A canyon? If you can't initially, don't give up. Do it anyway. Make it up if you have to. Your subconscious knows even if you don't recognize it right away. Giving form to your model for being stuck, calling up the mental image, empowers the next step.
Now, imagine your life experience to date as being bounded by a thin, closed, curved line. It curves around you in an irregular shape, defining the boundaries of your experience in all aspects of your life. Picture yourself on the inside, looking out over the edge of your experience in all directions. Now walk to the spot on your edge where you'd imagine your current challenge resides. Standing there, bring your old mental image, your old model for being stuck to mind. Face it. Imagine it's made of sugar and soak it with a hose. Watch it dissolve before your eyes. Don't stop until its a puddle at your feet and that thin line, your edge, is all that remains. You have replaced your old model for life's challenges with the idea that you are simply standing at the edge of your experience.
With this paradigm shift comes a reframing of your thinking. Being stuck no longer means circling the problem, caught in a vortex of worried thought. Rather, you are standing still, faced outward toward a universe of experience waiting for you. If you aren't moving, you are simply saying "No." "No" to going forward. "No" to a new experience. "No" to whatever consequences you've imagined will greet you on the other side of that line. Being stuck isn't the cause for not moving forward. It's the result of saying "No." And the obvious antidote is "yes."
Having adopted an awareness mindset and replaced your old paradigm for being stuck with "meeting your edge" and saying "no," you can apply the second principle to move through it.
Softening and saying "Yes"
Knowing that being stuck is saying "no" at the edge of your experience, you can greatly simplify how you approach every challenge. You don't have to conquer them. You simply have to allow them into your life. It isn't battle, it's expansion. The process brings both the challenge and everything required to deal with it into your experience. This isn't just semantics. It is the very definition of personal growth and it is very empowering. Your personal expansion always lies beyond your edge, and it doesn't just expand to encompass a particular challenge. It also expands to encompass every other similar challenge that requires the skills and experience gained when you've met and expanded your edge in any given circumstance.
Going about this is simple. It may not be easy at first, but I can tell you from firsthand experience, which I will share in future posts, it gets easier with practice. Once you're aware you've met your edge, you "soften" your thinking to start moving beyond it with less resistance. To do this, you begin by saying "Yes." "Yes" to acknowledging the challenge. "Yes" to addressing it. "Yes" to bringing it into your experience. And as you do, you begin to dissolve your edge, bit by bit, setting the stage for lifting your head, facing forward and moving into the experience. Your expanded edge is waiting for you, encompassing the experience you are allowing into your life.
The Ultimate Reward: Living Fearlessly
The big payoff for adopting this practice is not just taming your worry, although that alone is worth it. The big payoff over time is living fearlessly. When you adopt this practice in your life, you embark on what Pema Chödrön calls the hero’s journey, the journey of awakening, with a warrior mindset. You continually come up against big challenges, edge after edge, and learn to soften and open. The coward is paralyzed, refusing to let go of rigid, hardened thinking. All thoughts turned inward. Always thinking but no thought as to who is doing the thinking. The letting go, the renunciation, starts with recognizing your state of mind and then beginning the process of being compassionate toward yourself and your predicament; to feel in your heart your compassion and love for yourself and the whole of your human condition. Don’t try to erase your troubled feelings. Sit with them and let them soften. As they do, the edge will soften with it. Your “no” will grow fainter and fainter until it is finally silenced. And then, the vacuum of that silence will call forth a “Yes,” a “Yes” to life, a “Yes” to the next step beyond the edge, and then yet again, until you are left wondering where that edge went. Angst and worry replaced with loving-kindness and playfulness.
As Pema Chödrön puts it, say “Yes” to whatever is put on your plate, “Yes” to whatever knocks on your door, “Yes” to whatever calls you up on your telephone. Observed, this will be an inspiration to others. Your love of life and warrior quality, meeting challenges with humor and an open heart, will resonate with those around you. Saying "Yes" will become your habit and others will follow and respond in kind because they know by your example that they can do the same. Dissolve your edge, push it out, and you never go alone. Others will join your hero's journey to live their lives, like you, fearlessly.