What Haunts Us?

A meditation on fear as a guide for action.
A meditation on fear as a guide for action.

Strach ma wielkie oczy.
-Polish proverb meaning “Fear has big eyes.”

Auugh! Why can’t I just go back to sleep? It’s 2 in the morning for god’s sake. My head feels like it’s going to burst open. I make myself turn over to the other side, hoping this might help stop the thoughts that are rushing like a mudslide, almost burying me. My heart pounds against my ribcage, and my scalp is getting tighter by the minute.

And it all started so innocently:

A noise outside woke me up. What was that? A burglar? I listened intently until a deep silence enveloped me. Perhaps a raccoon, or a night bird. But it was enough to set off my internal alarm. Once I woke up I started thinking. First I went over the list what I needed to do the next day. Then, the ‘what I should’ve done’ list started to appear in my mind. And the more awakened I became, the more into the past I went. Unfinished loan application, the unsent letter, a friend who wasn’t returning my calls… How I needed to find a new gardener who really cares. And a pool man, so I didn’t have to care. A handyman to fix things, and mend, and….

Wait. Maybe I should just relax so I can go back to sleep. How about I meditate? Can I just meditate lying down – it’s just too much effort to pull myself up. Up, up… down the spiral, here it goes … I’ve been in this place before. I repeat my mantra:

I am concerned, I care, I am nervous, I feel discomfort, I am anxious, I am annoyed, I am troubled, I am bothered, I feel uneasy.

This is a typical scenario for me and many women out there. The quieter the outside, the louder my inside. The next day Jerzy commented on how tired I looked. I told him about my sleepless night. So, tell me, I asked him, do you worry?

No. I don’t waste my energy on worrying, he said. But I must admit, I have some fears that light a fire under me.

When I asked him what they were, he told me and then said that he didn’t worry because he was doing what he could to prevent them from happening. Jerzy reminded me of a Stoic saying: Know what you can and can’t control. It was a reminder of how to keep your mind peaceful. Do whatever you can to prevent disasters and enjoy the moment, because that’s all we really have. Whatever you do, you have to find pleasure in it. You do have control over this, whereas worrying drains the pleasure and joy from life.

With time I’ve learned that worrying is a waste of time and energy. It leaves you drained and scattered. I’ve found that worrying is very passive; it’s rumination that leads to a frozen state, or wishful thinking instead of acting.

Woman have always had the traditional role of caretaker. They’ve also been the ones who had to wait over the centuries—wait for men to return from war or from work. But this is an outdated paradigm. Now women fight and go to work themselves, just as men do. There’s a way to act and to reflect mindfully without it turning into rumination. Instead it becomes action. That night when I couldn’t sleep, I finally reached out for my journal and wrote down all the things I had to tend to, closed it, and went back to sleep with a peaceful mind. All the worry went into the journal and the next day, in the light of morning, I was ready to work with the list. The ‘big eyes’ had shrunken down to a normal size. I realized that worrying is just a bad habit and that it was ultimately up to me to banish it.


Is worrying ever useful? How? Do you have a method of your own that helps break the spell when you worry?

Leave your response below in the comments.

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  • Mike, Thank you so much for helping people to achieve THB in San Diego area and now in Boston. We just added our first 5 mentors to our web. We do not have any mentors in Boston, but I am sure we will have somebody soon there. The link to Mentor page is below in case you know anyone who could be interested in deepening the knowledge about THB and about the skill of mentoring others.

  • Aniela,
    Such a powerful observation: “I realized that worrying is just a bad habit and that it was ultimately up to me to banish it.” Thank you for reminding me.

    • Wendy,
      You very welcomed. Habitual thinking can be changed, you need the willingness to substitute it for more positive attitude. This is where the Master and the Fatalist’s wrestling begins. You need only 51% to go either way.

  • Hi, I am Ase from Norway. This is right in the eye for all of us. The sense of worry I believe comes from care, survive will and more – and should be, to all of us, a kind of alarm sign that absolutely should be written down in a do-it list. If the worry is not acted about, then it becomes draining in the system! Your text is very relieving and helpful reminder. I will copy some of the sentences here and hang them on my boost wall 🙂 Thank you, Aniela 🙂

    • Hello all the way to Norway Ase!
      I’m glad it was a helpful reminder for you – I still have to work on that, sometimes. Making “to do” list helps a lot, and it’s such a simple solution. Please send our way some picks of your boost wall!

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