…. I'm full of anxiety about the future–what’s going to happen to my husband and me and what's going to happen to the family…. I'm always expecting sickness and accidents. I worry about money even though we have enough my husband keeps telling me…. I even worry about the dog…. I see nothing only problems in the future. I'm this way for years, and I'm very tired all the time. Is there any advice you could give me? Joan
Dear Joan, I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t reproduce all the detail in your letter. It struck me that your long descriptions were themselves an expression of fear. So I put in just the essentials (and the dog).
No one can cope with the future – because it isn’t there. We can only try and cope with the present. But your fear of the future is in the present, so you can cope with it. That's the main thing I want to say to you.
What would your life be like now if all your fears throughout the years had been realised? You would probably have passed away many years ago. But no, you are still here. You are walking proof that dwelling on fears is a waste of effort. Because the future is never there, we can invent it and shape it any way we like – or rather, any way we fear. You have been making and editing horror movies in your head, to frighten yourself with. If you have to make movies why not make pleasant and encouraging ones? It’s what most people do. So a useful question you might ask is: What is the attraction of horror movies for me? Why do I keep making them? Hitchcock made a lot of money from imagining horror, but there’s nothing in it for you.
Why do we human beings like to frighten ourselves? The answer isn’t obvious, so let’s try and think about it. When there’s a real and present danger facing us we want to see it. This makes sense: it increases our chances of avoiding it. But when there is no real and present danger – only an imagined one – there’s nothing to see, of course; so we create something in our imagination that we can see. It’s as if we say to ourselves, “If I imagine a lot of horrible things I may be able to avoid them.” We create them in order to avoid them. It’s a habit that has grown out of a real instinct, but it can grow huge and become disconnected from reality. Wouldn’t it be easier for us not to create these horror scenes in the first place? They are a work of fiction. Like all fiction they are an arrangement of elements from reality without being real themselves.
All that is very general and I don’t know if it is of any help. So let’s try and see some practical steps you might take.
Instead of looking at your creations and allowing them to fill you with fear, look at your fear. Your creations are unreal, but your fear is real, and it exists in the present moment; it is tangible and accessible. Take up a comfortable position and relax the body. Become aware of the physical experience of fear. Don’t tell yourself the stories again; keep them strictly out of it. Be aware of what fear does to your muscles. Observe it in great detail. For some unknown reason awareness relaxes tension. You don’t have to do anything: just become aware. Give yourself plenty of time, and do it every day. As you become better at it you will begin to enjoy it. You will see that the body prefers not to be fed continually on fear. You will soon find that you are not exhausted all the time, because now the energy that used to go into fear (and fear is heavy on energy) is available to you for living your life.
You might look and see if there’s a relaxation or a meditation group in your area. That usually makes it easier to continue; and it’s always a help to know that you are not alone in your struggle. Fear is a universal human ingredient and everyone has to learn how to keep it from running away with us.
I can't say, “Keep up the good work,” because awareness and relaxation are the opposite of work. Enjoy the holiday!