Reflections on What We Control and What We Don’t (#699)

Did you know that “worry” is a verb? That is, “to worry something” is to shake it about – it is an activity, not a thing.

The kind of worrying that most of us do is with our thoughts. We take a particular thought and “worry it about” in our minds, shaking it back and forth and flipping it around until we become absolute experts on everything that could possibly go wrong.

I myself am an expert “worrier” – I seem to have been granted the ability to pick out the worst-case scenario at a puppy farm, or to imagine all the things that could go wrong at an OSHA convention.

Which is why I’ve always found it a bit curious that when I’m actually IN a difficult situation, I tend to handle it with remarkable ease and grace. Being stuck in traffic doesn’t upset me, even if I’m running late. If the recording equipment stops working at an event where I’m teaching, as it did recently, I can generally incorporate it into the proceedings without batting an eyelash, even if I had previously been worrying about the possibility.

The difference, or so it seems to me, is this:

Once something has actually happened,
whether or not it happens
is clearly no longer within my control.

And if I know that something is not within my control, I see no point in worrying about it, or more accurately, in worrying it about.

Which is why when I woke up a couple of days ago without control over the left side of my face, I was oddly calm. In fact, the only real thought my worrying mind gave me to play with was how it might affect the television pilot we’re working on, and whether or not they will be able to film me exclusively from the right side until whatever it was cleared up.

When others kindly pointed out to me all the other things I could be worrying about that might be a wee bit more important than how I looked on TV, like a brain tumor or a stroke, it did occur to me to go to the hospital, and they quickly diagnosed it as a mild case of Bell’s Palsy, a strange form of facial paralysis the explanation for which sounded completely made up, even to the doctor who diagnosed me with it.

The good thing about Bell’s Palsy is that a. Most people recover within 2 – 3 weeks and b. With the exception of a cocktail of drugs that may or may not speed recovery and that I am faithfully taking each day, there’s nothing much which can be done.

And I find that sort of behavioral helplessness incredibly comforting. Oh sure, I get that if I maintain a relatively positive mind and a relatively relaxed body, that will create an internal environment which promotes healing. And even after only a few days, I’ve discovered that ordering soup for lunch is just a bad idea. But when there’s nothing to be done about something, there’s nothing to be done about it – and that leaves our energy free to enjoy whatever it is we can do.

Twenty years ago, I remember seeing the quadriplegic motivational speaker W. Mitchell give a talk from his wheelchair. The line which burned into my memory was this:

“Before I was paralyzed there were 10,000 things I could do. Now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I’ve lost or focus on the 9,000 I have left.”

What we control, in my experience, is not what happens to us and not even which thoughts, positive or negative, come into our head. What we control is what we do and which thoughts we dwell on. And funnily enough, that’s more than enough control to create a magical life, regardless of whatever circumstances you happen to find yourself in.

Recently, I was watching a video of the spiritual philosopher Syd Banks and he shared an old Irish philosophy:

There are only two things to worry about – are you sick or are you well?If you’re well, there’s nothing to worry about. And if you’re sick, there are only two things to worry about – will you live or will you die?

If you live, there’s nothing to worry about. And if you die, there are only two things to worry about – will you go to heaven or will you go to hell?

If you go to heaven, there’s nothing to worry about. And if you go to hell, you’ll be so busy shaking hands with all your friends that there’s nothing to worry about.

Have fun, learn heaps, and if you wake up with the left side of your face paralyzed, make sure they film you from the right!

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