How much time, on average, do you think you spend worrying about the future? Anything from worrying about how you'll pay your bills at the end of the month, to why your boss wants that meeting with you on Friday, to how you'll cope if you get sick.
If you've been anything like me over the course of your lifetime, you can just mark down your answer to that question as 'a lot'. Worrying is so commonplace in our culture that we often don't even notice the central place it's taken up in our daily lives. And as soon as something becomes a normal part of life, we stop questioning its right to be there.
I was standing in the garden with my dad over the summer. Looking up toward the sky he pointed out some swifts flying through. Swifts migrate from Africa each year, flying thousands of miles to arrive in the UK at the beginning of May, and heading back towards Africa again in August. Except for breeding season they spend their entire lives in the air; a period of about ten months at a time. They sleep, eat and even mate whilst airborne.
I look at nature a lot these days - the plants and animals around me - and ask myself, are they worried? Does the sheep worry about there being enough grass to eat tomorrow? Does the swift worry about whether she'll set off back to Africa at the right time this season? Does the flower worry about whether she'll open again in the morning? Does the Earth worry about whether she'll manage another orbit around the Sun?
Of course, I know the answer to my wonderings. They don't worry.
And yet every day, human beings everywhere are waking up to worry. Another day spent entirely out of the present moment in some imaginary place in the future that can never exist. We look at nature 'out there' and understand why it doesn't need to worry. We get that 'it just works', but we don't seem able to apply the same logic to ourselves.
Why? Because most of us don't see ourselves as part of nature. Nature is everything around us but we...well, we're us. Separate from that. Something else. And if that's the way we see ourselves, it's hardly surprising that we'd experience the levels of worry we do. It gives rise to that feeling of needing to take care of yourself in a world where no one and nothing else is going to.
The 'overview effect' is a phrase referring to the experience of seeing Earth from space for the first time. Astronauts have described how the experience gives them an incredible sense of the interconnectedness of all things and how we're as much a part of this web of life as anything else.
Imagine for a second being another life form, observing Earth from space. Imagine seeing all that was happening here. From that other life form's perspective, human beings are simply another part of life on Earth, like the trees or the rivers or the birds. And yet from our perspective down here, we don't think we benefit from the same intelligence that governs the world that surrounds us.
And yet how did you come to be in this world? By what miracle did the egg and sperm come together? By what miracle were all your organs formed? By what miracle did you grow so beautifully inside your mother's womb? By what miracle did you arrive at just the right time? And what? As soon as you take your first gasp of air out here, all that intelligence ends? From now on you've got to figure it all out yourself, take the reigns, drive the car?
Worry about the future is inevitable if we see ourselves as a separate self in a world of other separate selves with no higher power at work. But when we begin to truly let in and live the knowing that we're spiritual beings having a human experience and that there's an intelligence behind all of life that knows exactly what it's doing, then we can begin to let go of our worry with the faith that it's simply not necessary.
Just as the swifts know when and how to migrate without worrying, as the flower knows how to open and how the Earth orbits around the Sun, so we are coded to function perfectly...without the worry. For most of us though, the idea that we have to control, plan and figure everything out is so deeply engrained that the idea of giving ourselves over to a higher power seems absurd, at best.
A Course in Miracles asks us to 'place the future in the hands of God'. God is one of those words I've developed a new relationship with over the last year, but if that word gets you stuck, use anything that works for you - The Universe, The Divine, a Higher Intelligence, Love etc. And placing my future in the hands of God is exactly what I've started to do. More than that, I just know it can't be any other way.
Worry is a habit we can afford to give up but it might take some work. Here's a simple practice I've been working with, specifically in the mornings, but also throughout the day, that you can try too.
Sitting quietly in the morning, I take the lesson from A Course In Miracles and simply say (sometimes out loud, sometimes silently), "I place my future in the hands of God." After that, I go on with whatever occurs to me to say. Again, if the word God doesn't feel right to you, use something else that does. What you're affirming is simply that you understand that there is a natural intelligence governing all things and that you do not, therefore, need to put your energy into worrying about the future.
Any time throughout the day you notice yourself being drawn into a story of worry about the future, return your attention to this phrase, or whatever phrase feels intuitively right for you. Allow yourself to sink into the calm that comes with knowing that life is living itself and that you do not need to take up a position of control or worry about a time that is always an illusion because the only place we ever find ourselves is here.
I'm also reminded of a phrase my acting teacher used to say:
"Give in. Give up. Let go."
You might think that giving in, giving up and letting go is a sort of depressing resignation to life - that you've somehow stopped caring. I find the opposite to be true. I see this as the acknowledgement that I care so much that I'd prefer to get out of the way of life doing what it does so much better when I'm not interfering.
The question I've had to ask and answer for myself in this process is this:
Am I really willing to give up my worry? Because if I'm going to 'put my future in the hands of God', I recognise that it's not a case of I'll do it on Mondays and Fridays or, I'll do it when it feels safe to do so, it's really a case of, do it always and in every situation. And that's what I'm choosing. Maybe you'll choose that with me too?
Love and courage,