My yoga instructor once said something interesting. “Don’t worry about what you don’t know, because knowledge isn’t perfect. The knowledge we have today will be obsolete or changed in a few years, so there’s no sense getting attached to one way of thinking, or one set of facts.” He also said that, to take this further, we shouldn’t care about what we know or don’t know. Don’t get all twisted up worrying about things you can’t control, things that may or may not happen, or “facts” that may not still be facts in several years. Try not caring for a while and see what happens. This, he noted, is a formula for freedom.
(Now, before I continue, let me state up front that he was not talking about checking out of the world entirely. Of course there are things you need to care about and be aware of. No one can go through life completely disengaged from the world around them. You have to care enough to take care of your family and yourself, make a living, and be a productive citizen. So don’t jump all over this post yelling about how it’s impossible and irresponsible to “check out” on the world. Also note that I’m fully aware that some facts will never change. Things like math are mostly fixed. The instructor was referring to things like scientific studies that turn out to be wrong a few years down the road.)
I’m not good at this sort of thought process. While I don’t have major anxiety issues, I do get twisted up about things that have nothing to do with me or which I cannot control in any way. I stress about things that I shouldn’t. But, since I’m always game for self-improvement, I decided to try anyway.
It didn’t come easy at first. The idea of not worrying about things and, even worse, not caring about the fact that I wasn’t worrying was, well, worrying. It created a vicious cycle where the more I tried not to worry or care, the more I worried and cared. Not cool.
But then one day something happened. I started, little by little, caring less and worrying less. Things that previously got me worked up rolled off of me. I was becoming a calmer, nicer person who didn’t freak out over every little scary thing. (Now I only freak out over some scary things. Recovery is a long process.) I wasn’t worrying about disease, global events, traffic, scary studies and pseudo-science, or whether I or my loved ones were going to die that day. I was just going through the day, doing what needed to be done at any given moment, and enjoying those moments. It was, as promised, very freeing.
While I don’t have major anxiety issues I do get twisted up about things that have nothing to do with me or which I cannot control in any way.
Two things aided this process more than any others, I think. First, I gave up on the news. I went on a low-information diet. I’ve known for a long time that the news (aka the bloodbath report) is toxic. It’s full of things that don’t concern me and which I cannot do anything about. Sure, it’s bad when people shoot each other, but a random shooting on the other side of the country isn’t really my problem.
It’s also full of things that may not be true in five years, let alone tomorrow. In the quest for ratings, the media jumps on every unproven study, Tweet, Facebook post, fact, or speculation and lays it down as absolute truth, only to retract it a few days/weeks/months later. “Whoops. That one didn’t pan out. Our bad.” (Of course, you may never hear about the retraction because they’ll print it so tiny, or put it on the crawl at the bottom of the screen. Then you’re just worrying about something even more unnecessarily.) Internalizing all of that crap wasn’t good for me so I quit cold turkey.
That wasn’t easy. I work from home, so having CNN on during the day was a form of company and water cooler chatter that I don’t get here in my isolation tank. I had to actively seek other things to watch and read. For a while, my substitute was SportsCenter on ESPN. It was noise and it was news-like, but without the scare factor. Eventually, I was able to wean myself off of even that.
Good and bad things still happen, both in the silence and in the noise. They happen whether you’re thinking about them or not.
Second, I took up meditation in addition to yoga. That was hard because sitting still for ten minutes at a time and turning off my brain was a near impossibility. I’m too twitchy for that. But I stuck with it and I started to be able to meditate for longer and longer periods of time. When you sit in the stillness and turn your brain off, you realize that you are just fine not knowing and not caring about things. You’re still breathing, still alive, and things are going on just as they should be, only you’re not getting all worked up about any of it. None of your thoughts or worries can or will change what’s happening around you, much less in some other part of the world. Good and bad things still happen, both in the silence and in the noise. They happen whether you’re thinking about them or not. You can’t control any of it, so it’s your choice which life experience you want. The quiet one, or the endlessly noisy one.
And once you choose the quiet one, that’s when the freedom kicks in. Once you realize that your thoughts have little bearing on the world around you (beyond your immediate circle of influence), you stop worrying and start living. You stop caring that people are horrible towards each other, that the world seems to be going to pot, and that some random disease might wipe us all out tomorrow. You stop living in fear and the world doesn’t seem like such a scary place anymore. You’re not looking at the overwhelming world, but more at your immediate life. And it’s likely not too bad.
I’ve found that my life has radically improved since I stopped giving a crap about, well, crap. I spend more time thinking about and dealing with the things I can control, help, and influence: My family, my work, my neighborhood, and my friends. I work more on strengthening my local relationships and caring about the things that have an immediate impact on me and mine. Maybe some of that will translate into larger positive change but if not, I’m okay with that. I can only do what I can do.
Since I’m now only looking at my immediate life, the world seems like a better place and is far less scary. That doesn’t mean that I’m living in la-la land. I know that things are bad elsewhere. But here, in my piece of the world, they’re kind of nice. Appreciating that and enjoying the freedom of not being weighed down by a world full of misery is very freeing, exactly as my yoga teacher promised. Don’t Know + Don’t Care = Freedom.
(Photo courtesy of quicksandala)