Now that we’ve gotten your attention, let me just assure you that it’s not your Bernard Madoff account. But then you probably already knew that.
If you’re like most people you’ve probably received more information and opinions about the international financial meltdown than you ever wanted to have. Probably the last thing that you need to hear about is one more person’s take on the mess that we’re in, whose fault it is and what should be done in order to fix it. Too much information. Yet many of us can’t help but stay immersed in this ongoing conversation, perhaps in the hope that we may finally learn something that is truly useful, or perhaps because that’s the only subject that anyone is talking about, or maybe because it’s in the nature of obsessiveness to keep gnawing away at the same old bone, expecting that somehow, something new may finally come of our efforts. And sometimes there is a breakthrough in our understanding of things, and a new perspective yields itself to new possibilities that had been previously inconceivable. At such times we may learn something that provides us with an understanding of the situation that finally frees us up enough to experience some relief from our preoccupation and perhaps some hope, or if we’re really lucky, peace of mind.
The greatest toll that the stress caused by excessive worrying and anxiousness takes may be less on our wallet than on our quality of mind, which is the most significant variable in influencing the overall quality of our lives. Although the fear of anticipated loss is what drives this state of ongoing anxiety, it is the actual loss of the peace of mind that is sacrificed when we become consumed by ‘catastrophic thinking’ that causes our greatest suffering. When we are possessed by fear-laden thinking, we are already experiencing a great and irreplaceable loss: the loss of the ability to experience what is actually going on in the moment, which is of course, the only place in which life is actually happening. Financial meltdowns can be survived; most people can live on less than they would like to have, lost funds can usually be at least partially recovered or replaced over time, lost jobs can often be replaced with other, sometimes even better jobs, people can learn to live in smaller homes and drive older cars, but what can’t be replaced are the moments that we spend obsessively ruminating about what is gone or what might be lost.
Worry, remorse, and regret are simply mind states that inhabit our inner experience, for anywhere from a few moments to months or even longer. When they are prolonged they can turn into disabling moods like depression or bitter resentment. Although it may seem as though these moods arise from some unknown location within us and have a life of their own over which we have no control, this is not the case. It’s in the nature of moods to feel like they have us, rather than we having them. Yet when one examines the nature of these mind states, it soon becomes evident that although they may initially show up uninvited, they linger out of our attachment to them. While it may seem to be the height of folly to hold onto something that is causing us great distress, we have reasons for not wanting to let go of these thoughts. For one thing, there may be some value, at least to a point, in assessing and analyzing our situation in order to create or discover more effective ways of changing it or coming to terms with it. For another thing, when we feel really powerless to change something that is much bigger than we are or seems totally out of our control, one thing that we CAN at least do is worry about it. Worrying is something that we do to make us feel like we’re not simply giving up and doing nothing. Worrying promotes the illusion that in doing something, our lives are not out of control and we are not powerless, two experiences that most human beings hate to feel. So in promoting obsessive thinking by endlessly recycling repetitive thoughts, we may be acting as more active agents in the creation of our own personal hell than we realize.
Interrupting these patterns is easier said than done, but nonetheless possible if we commit ourselves the becoming free of them and work towards that end. Our best efforts may not be sufficient to interrupt the cycles without help from others, but sharing our struggles with others may be a vitally important step in the process. Speaking our repetitive thinking aloud allows us to alter our relationship with our thoughts and can help us to become complete them, that is to see the truth of things with more clarity than is possible when we engage in repetetive inner rumination which can easily lead to “analysis paralysis”. There are of course other practices that are highly effective in assisting us to become liberated from dysfunctional thought patterns, such as meditation, mindfulness practice and various forms of psychotherapy. A multi-pronged approach sometimes works best, but the most critical factor in the process is your own commitment to your mental health and peace of mind, and your trust that such states are possible even in the most difficult circumstances, and your conviction that despite any misgivings that you may have about yourself or your behavior, that you are deserving of the gift of inner peace. Sometimes it is the (unfounded) belief that we are unworthy of this because of some previous offense that we have committed that we haven’t yet been willing to forgive ourselves for. When we can find forgiveness in our heart for ourselves, we can at last open the possibility to experience the kind of peace and joy that is and has always been our birthright. If our heart tells us that we need to make amends or take reparative actions in order to find self-forgiveness, we have the power to make that choice and take whatever actions are necessary to recover our experience of wholeness once again.
Inner peace is not just a gift to ourselves, it’s a gift to everyone that we touch directly and indirectly. And ultimately that’s a lot of folks. It may take time and it certainly can take effort, but it’s worth it. After all, it’s your most valuable asset.