"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.
Twenty years ago I made a bold move. I joined a very troubled company as CEO to lead an extremely difficult turnaround. Since then, we have sailed smooth waters, tacked against gale force winds, and navigated every storm in-between. Looking back, I am so glad I didn't know what I was getting into. I had no idea what it was going to take when I signed on for that challenge. If I had, I doubt I would have had the courage to take it on. I had to grow into it. I was constantly meeting my edge, pulling experience after experience into my world, building on existing skills and developing new ones along the way to expand it outward. Now, I am doing it again as I enter the next phase of my life.
Life has its share of momentous events and decisions, but generally, it comes at us in bite size pieces. And that's an incredibly practical aspect of our human experience. It allows us to make small shifts, to constantly act and react to events and make incremental adjustments in response to our circumstances without feeling overwhelmed. It feels so normal and natural that we don't give a second thought to the masterful way we make decisions and take actions hundreds of times each day. Our feeling of consistency, predictability and stability comes from this practice. And over time, we get a great deal accomplished that, had it been presented to us all at once, we may have felt incapable or unwilling to tackle without this perspective.
Challenges fall on a spectrum of difficulty with a gap between where we are and where we'd like to be. The larger the challenge, the wider the gap. Eventually the gap widens beyond our perceived ability to close it or cross it with just a shift. We see it as a bold move and we find ourselves stuck and uncomfortable. We solve so many problems with small shifts that we feel this type of situation is fundamentally different. That it requires superhuman effort to resolve it all at once.
The truth is, when issues grow, solutions don't get bigger, they get longer. They don't take more strength, they take more endurance. Small shifts still reign, they still get the job done, and renunciation is still the key. The wide gap we see as requiring a huge leap powered by superhuman strength is a gap of understanding. Saying "yes" to moving forward puts the same process in place that we live by every day - continuous, familiar, small shifts. Tomorrow's core activities won't be that different after that decision. We still get up. Make coffee. Get showered. Get dressed. Place phone calls. Meet with people. Have conversations. Answer email. In other words, "chop wood, carry water." It's not so very different from your normal day-to-day. It may be directed toward a different desired outcome, but the activities aren't that different. The stakes may be higher, but the small shift activities supporting it are familiar.
So the real issue with being stuck and anxious is the gap, not the work. That's why taming worry, through the practice of renunciation, is so effective. Standing on the familiar side of the gap is to stand next to your edge. Your edge of experience. Your edge of understanding. Your edge of familiar. The same edge that expands outward in increments through small shifts. Each shift that supports the bold move loosens the grip of immobilization caused by fear and indecision. Your bold move isn't a move at all. It's a mindset shift. A shift from "No, I can't," to "Yes, I will make small shifts, take one action after another, in the direction of the bold move."
As it turned out, I was capable of leading my company's turnaround, and I would have been capable whether I knew what was coming or not. When I eventually found renunciation, I discovered I'd been practicing it all along. Immersed in the experience, problems and decisions of every size were fundamentally handled the same way. It was a constant stream of meeting my edge at the border of a wide gap, softening and saying "yes" to the bold move, and taking action, making shifts, in the direction of a solution. "Yes" reduced the bold move to small shifts. It was the key. It still is.