Stop Your Worry Loops

It had been over 105 for three days in a row.  The heat at midday was oppressive and our only retreat was the cool of the air conditioner, which was running all day and well into the evening.  On the third day, I noticed that the fan motor kept running after the AC shut off.  In fact, the motor ran all night.  Was something wrong?  Was my system about to give out in the middle of a heat wave?  I started to worry.  

One of the ways I wear my worry is to make long mental lists of the things that could go wrong and then strategize solutions for each of them.  As you can imagine, this can take up a fair bit of mental energy.  Because strategizing is one of my strengths, this way of coping with worry lets me feel that I am doing something productive.  It is a nice comfort to think so, but really the ruminations and over-planning that fill my mind are more taxing than helpful.  

My worries grew stronger throughout the day, circling round themselves in an ever-widening loop that fed on itself, gaining momentum with a frenetic energy all their own.  What does a new air conditioner cost?  Do I need to replace the furnace at the same time?  This is going to be expensive.  Can I even get a repair tech to come out, aren’t they’re all swamped?  I knew I was spinning but I couldn’t stop the motor in my mind.  I was caught in its tractor beam.  So I turned to one of the tools I have learned over years of contemplative practice.

A contemplative practice, like yoga, tai chi chuan, centering prayer or meditation, nurtures a receptive quality in me that allows a little distance to slip in between me and my thoughts. It can loosen the grip my current state so I can regain perspective.  One common meditation instruction is to pay attention to the gap between your thoughts.  In my experience, this means paying attention to the end points of my thoughts.  I tried this in the face of the spinning motor loops that had taken up residence in my mind.

As usual, it was a slow process,. To fight the loops with willpower only seems to keep things tight.  I just watched my thoughts even as they held tight to my mind space.  One worry would spin out, I would wait until it ended, and I would look for that small spot of silence before the next worry sprouted.  At first, it was small.  Tiny, really, like the period at the end of this sentence.  But as I watched for it, I found that it was always there.  By shifting my attention to that dot of silence instead of the torrent of thoughts, the dots slowly grew.  They became islands of silence in the flood and started to draw energy from the worry loops into their own quiet spaciousness.  

My mind felt calmer and I decided that ruminating about the possible failure of my system was not useful.  I called and scheduled a service call for the next day.  The repair guy found the problem right away:  I had accidentally moved the switch on the thermostat from “Fan Auto” to “Fan On.”  He flipped it back and the fan stopped.

Now a different storm of thoughts began in my head.  “You idiot, how could you have done that, now you’ve wasted money on a service call you didn’t need, what a dope!”  Instead of worry, the spinning now was full of blame and shame.  I caught it pretty quickly this time.  I looked for the small spot of an island at the end of each recrimination.  It was there.  I let a moment of silence hold the space where my scolding words were floating.  I breathed, my body relaxed, and the thoughts dissolved.  I paid the technician and thanked him, grateful it had not been something worse.

The irony was not lost on me.  “Fan On” had been the state of the whirling motor of. my mind.  Flip the switch and you get … silence.  A wink from the Universe.

Photo by Felix Berger on Unsplash

2 Replies to “Stop Your Worry Loops”

  1. Hi Steve,
    Veronika always speak about you with high regards.

    She shared your Blog with me, and as she often says, Steve is an excellent writer. I concur with her after reading the blog. Not only was it well written, it was the perfect read for my monkey brain. 🙂

    I hope you and your family enjoyed a restful and enjoyable Thanksgiving.
    Stay well, I look forward to seeing you in the future.

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