There’s a lot of talk this time of year about the Naughty and Nice Lists, but little mention of the Worry List. The Worry list is a silent list that lives in our minds and it’s filled with anxiety and fear for ourselves and the ones we love the most. Will he stay sober this Christmas season? Will she know that her worth is more than how many likes or followers she has on Instagram? Will they stop filling their bodies with food to numb the pain? Will I get sick? Will I unknowingly give Covid to someone I love? Will life ever feel “normal” again? Prior to the pandemic, I was a relatively worry-free type of person. But in 2021, I have become intimately involved with anxiety. My anxiety can be so tremendous these days that I am fearful when I’m in a car, envisioning accidents that could happen left and right (to be fair, my teenage daughter has been chauffeuring me around a lot lately since she got her permit a week ago, but still…my road anxiety was there long before that).
About a week before I left to pick up my oldest son to bring him home for his first home visit in almost a year, a dear friend of mine shared a song by Blue October with me called The Worry List. As I listened to it on my drive home from work, tears started to pour down my face. I had to pull over to the side of the road because the release was so tremendous and then I pulled up the lyrics to the song and when I did, I realized how much worry I’ve been carrying on my shoulders this past year. In a relatively short amount of time, my Worry List grew quite long.
Here are the lyrics that made me pull over:Take me off your worry list, it’s better that way. And I’m going fine, I’ve got plenty of friends around. Take me off your worry list, just throw it away. Well it’s time to stand up on my own for her. ‘Cause I’m packing it up and I’m comin’ today. ” –Blue October
I shared this song with Ozzie on our second morning together while we were in the kitchen making waffles. Before I knew it, he was over in front of the computer with his guitar in his hands learning the chord progression for this song and singing the words as he strummed along. The tears came back. But this time, the tears were joyful, like a full circle moment. My son and I have always connected through music, and when I heard him learning this song, I knew it’s because it resonated with him and that I now had the hard task of doing what the song pleads of me: taking him (and my other two kids, and finances and Covid and global warming and teaching and ALL OF IT) off of my worry list. As I move into 2022, I don’t want to carry the baggage of anxiety with me anymore. It’s become very cumbersome and has robbed me of the joy of living in the moment.
When the student is ready, the teacher appears
This is a buddhist saying that has proven to be true time and time again, and this week is no exception. On the last day of school before break I received a gift from my Secret Santa that included Eckhart Tolle’s New York Times Bestseller, The Power of Now. This book has been on my reading list for about five years, and last week it came into my possession at last, and I think that’s because the student (me) is finally ready for this teaching. I’m only 47 pages into the book, but the essence is already clear: to live a joy-filled life, one must learn to separate their true selves from their thoughts.
On page 43 of the Power of Now Tolle writes this:“The psychological condition of fear is divorced from any concrete and true immediate danger. It comes in many forms: unease, worry, anxiety, nervousness, tension, dread, phobia, and so on. This kind of psychological fear is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now. You are in the here and now, while your mind is in the future. This creates an anxiety gap. And if you’re identified with your mind and have lost touch with the power and simplicity of the Now, the anxiety gap will be your constant companion.” –Eckhart Tolle
When I read that, I realized that I have been living in the anxiety gap for the entirety of 2021. And I understand why; everything in my life was out of control and I faced loss after loss after loss. And yet here I am. I’m still alive and I would say that I’m stronger than ever. My three children have been under the same roof as me this past week and they have been such a joy to be with. We have had conversations about what we been through and we have talked about the new shape of our family. And through these conversations, I’ve come to realize that they’re ALL doing fine. They are processing what happened to us and they are doing their best to move forward. My worry over them does nothing except take me out of the present moment and make me miserable. It’s time to let go.
In another favorite book of mine, Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach, she writes about the “search for the Sacred in the ordinary” which is another (perhaps more practical way) of living in the Now. It’s about putting your cell phone in another room and sitting with a cup of tea while you watch your children make cookies (or if they’re younger, while you help them make cookies)…let the mess come, there will be plenty of time to clean up afterwards. It’s about singing your favorite songs together and eating dinner in the glow of Christmas lights. It’s about buying a ridiculous antler hat for your puppy and trying to get him to wear it long enough to pose for a picture (please admire this feat in the featured image!) It’s about swapping out a ski day for a jammy day with popcorn and a movie. It’s all the little moments in our day that we can so easily miss if we slip into our mind and out of the present moment.
Christmas Eve reflections
Having Ozzie home this Christmas has reminded me of what Christmas is all about: our presence (not our presents). As the year draws to a close, and I reflect on what I want to let go of and leave in 2021, worry is at the top of that list. It hasn’t served me well; in fact, it’s only brought me pain and sorrow and has made me the worst driving teacher ever for my teen driver. In order to make space for what I do want to invite in in 2022, I have to let worry go. I know that as I set out on this journey that I will fail. A colleague of mine says that “FAIL” means “First Attempt In Learning”. So as I learn to let go, I will give myself grace when I fail. But thanks to 2021, I know how to get up from a fall.
What about you? Is there anything on your worry list that you can release and leave in 2021?