Five years ago, one night at 3 am, I was very worried. I was really worried about what would happen if my mother would die. It was unbearable to imagine that she would be permanently unavailable, not only when I called her on the phone, but anytime. My mother was afraid of dark and closed spaces; how would it be possible to bury her under soil, where she would not be able to breath? What would I do without her, knowing that she was not on the earth? She loved me more than anyone else; how could I lose her?
Two years ago, I learned that my worries had no basis. My mother was diagnosed by cancer and she passed away in 2021.
My worries had no basis since I was worrying about something quite possible, something unavoidable, something natural, similar to other worries constructed over the space of possibilities, some of which are certainties in time-and-position space, like my own death. Yet, I was definitely living in future, as if I had to suffer something before it occurred, leading to circulation of worries of uncertainties or certainties.
Worry is definitely unhealthy, especially if excessive, while the intelligent reading these may wonder how it differs from fears. In fact, both worries and fears correspond to living in the future; we hopelessly prepare ourselves to future negative events, even when their possibilities are very low or very high. Obviously, in both cases (very low or very high possibilities), we suffer something that does not exist at the moment. Then, why do we suffer? Especially if it is unlikely to occur or it is very likely to occur. Simultaneously impressive.
Before proceeding further, let me distinguish worries and fears in reference to social interactions. Internally, worries and fears are the same (reactions to something envisaged, which does not exist at the moment), while, according to modern world, you are expected to be fearless but simultaneous worrisome. Because, worrisome people care. Worrisome people are also careful enough to avoid dangers and they are reliable (and they are probably attractive). This role imposed on the intelligent, who is already prone to worry a lot, leads to disastrous thinking styles, resulting in internal worlds full of items to worry and full of worries to further worry.
Experienced readers might have guessed that there is a well-established loop to sustain worries. Let me first give the loop and discuss how it works. Of course, there is a weak link that we may break to stop the loop and get rid of unnecessary worries – loads we carry unwillingly and hopelessly.
1. You bring some future negative event to your attention.
2. You feel that you must control the situation, so that the event will not occur.
3. You worry.
4. By worrying you keep the negative event in your attention.
Simple and beautiful, is not it? There is nothing in this loop whether the event will really occur or not. This is living in the future.
To elaborate further, lets consider a case with low probability, such as having an airplane crash. All statistical information available on the Internet tell us that it is a very low probability to be involved in a plane accident. Yet, multiplication of probability (near zero) and result (near infinity, specifically, death) push us to worry about such a future event (as the multiplication gives a finite number). Remember that if worry turns into a fear (and further evolved into a panic), this becomes socially less acceptable (“odd”), while if you keep it at the level of worry, you stay within socially defined, and even supported boundaries. Hence, if you worry about your parents while they are flying, that is what you are supposed to do. That is natural. You are expected to suffer, by the society.
Now, thinking about the worry about flying, it becomes less and less tangible as one peels layers. The underlying mechanism is illusion of control, i.e., by worrying, the sufferer actually believes that s/he is able to control the outcome. In case of flying, such a control is deformed ridiculously into being omnipotent and ability to create future. This is not a conscious idea obviously, as nobody (at least the intelligent) would not see herself/himself as a god. Yet, by worrying, the inner world (self) and the outer world (reality) are superimposed in a way that thinking becomes the main function operating on the objective events. Such a conversion of rather solid events that are governed by physical rules into subjective items further leads to a sense of continuity in one’s perspective. Then, the self becomes a part of an unattached event (even though it is not) such that thinking corresponds to movements/appearance/loss of objective components. This is simply illusion of control by imagining.
On the other extreme, we may consider a high-probability event. Any reader can be sure that either h/she will die or his/her loved ones will die earlier. With a lower probability, you may die simultaneously. Gloomy, is not it? Yet, it is the truth; we will all die until somebody finds a way to transfer conscious to a machine (as if this is better). The problem is that, a person may occasionally worry about these facts, while there is absolutely nothing to do. As if worrying will magically solve problems.
But what is the problem of worrying? Indeed, some of us – keeping some existentialists aside – may be quite happy to be worrisome persons, as further supported by the society. But, when the intelligent worries, the subject of worry can become so prominent that one’s attention may literately be consumed. This is known as living in the future, rather than enjoying the moment. Recall that, in the topic of fears, we divided them into rational and irrational ones, while the latter were useless, time- and energy-consuming, and something to avoid to achieve freedom. Similarly, we can categorize worries as rational and irrational ones. You should worry when you cross a road, because your attention is needed to control controllable events, such as your pace. But it becomes a problem when you worry that your loved one may have a random accident in a road trip. You have no control at all.
But, if it is a matter of control, how we can decide if something is controllable or not. In real life, events are not come as automatically categorized as controllable and uncontrollable. Is not it OK to worry about all events, in case we may have some control on them? Well; the reasoning behind “useful” and “useless” worry is based on its rationality; if worry leads to attention that can be converted into action, then it can be considered to have a function that rationalize it. But, as in the loop above, if a worry leads to an attention that merely keeps the negative event in one’s mind, it is obviously nonfunctional – only a mental practice and a source of suffering.
Then, if one worries about an exam in the near future, a rational worry may push her/him to study, which makes this particular worry rational. Rational worries do not turn into the loop – they create action and potential. If, however, such an exam worry keeps one from studying because it is unbearable, then the worry becomes dysfunctional and irrational. The loop is started and the negative event occupies all the attention space without any useful motion.
How to break the loop? I can hear experienced readers: “Do nothing!” The loop of worry requires energy, and by worrying irrationally, you are already doing something. All you need to "do" is stop. This is possible by realizing that the second step, i.e., “…that you must control the situation, so that the event will not occur…” is completely an illusion of control. If there is a loop established by worrying, that worry is certainly irrational, which indicates that the focus of worry is uncontrollable anyway – this is why you are stuck in the loop.
Do not forget enjoying the emptiness of the space when the worry goes.