About a dozen years ago a friend landed a job in Toronto. He decided to sell and give away nearly all of his possessions. He gave me a large box of books and a handful of cassette tapes. One of the tapes contained part of a lecture by psychedelic guru, Terrance McKenna. Yesterday, I rediscovered that tape in a stack of my own old cassettes.
I popped the cassette into my tape player and settled in to relisten to the lecture. The sound quality was weak and the content was rather deep and arcane. I became drowsy and drifted off to sleep for a few moments. I awakened and soon heard McKenna say, “Worry is a pact with the Devil”. I stopped the tape and started thinking.
McKenna’s premise was that human beings are the only animal that has a concept of time. We can be aware of the present moment for sure. However, we are able to recall past events and imagine how we might change them if we could return to the past. We also imagine what might be in store for us in the future. Oftentimes, we remember a past experience that is related to something that lies ahead of us in the future. In doing so, we can overlay memories of the past over our trepidations about the future event. Doing so, we compress time. The past, present, and future are envisioned together in a matter of moments.
We’ve all done this time compression. We entertain thoughts about the future. We visualize images and fantasies about that future. We soon feel emotions that are appropriate to an actual experiencing of these thoughts and fantasies. When the thoughts, visualizations, and emotions elicit fear, we have created worry.
This is both a blessing and a curse. If we were unable to create mental scenarios about the future based upon lessons learned in the past, we would be unable to plan for our future lives. We wouldn’t be prudent enough to make allowances for danger. The negativity arises when we become obsessed with the possibility of danger and harm.
Have you believed that if you didn’t worry, you might stop living an effective life? You encounter large and small problems each day. You look for solutions to those puzzles. Probably, your professional occupation requires you to eliminate problems. Too soon, you cannot imagine your life without some sort of problem. This preoccupation with one problem or another is the act of worrying.
The act of worrying is certainly unpleasant, stressful, largely unproductive, and unhealthy. Is it any wonder that McKenna said it is a pact with the Devil? Even if you’re like me and do not believe in a Devil, we understand the allegory instantly.
As we continue with this pact with the Devil, we become habituated to negativity. In turn the negativity becomes unconscious anxiety. This state of mind leads us to reactionary attitudes towards life. We lose sight of the well-being of others and become more grasping and self-centered. Our thoughts become narrowed and concerned with only our own well-being and safety.
Frequently, the worry is not about the future but centers upon regrets about our past. How many times have you mentally relived some unhappy event from your past? You might have imagined alternate outcomes of that event. The act of re-experiencing the past encourages resentments, grudges, and hatreds. Worrying over the past is at the root of many acts of criminal violence, oppression, subjugation, and warfare. Can’t this type of worry also be considered some sort of pact with the Devil?
The negativity of worry is toxic.
Is there a deeper cause of worry? Why do we occupy our minds with problems? Do we resolve our problems with constant tension over them? Have you noticed that when you are preoccupied with a problem, you aren’t able to effectively deal with other aspects of living? I’ve noticed that when I’m worrying about one thing or another, that my thinking might seem sharp and intense. Actually, my mind is dull to life. I become less sensitive and more world-weary. If I don’t want to deal with worry, I can simply escape into entertainment and trivia to comfort my mind. This sort of behavior likens me to that of an automaton.
On the other hand, have you noticed that an answer to some problem comes to mind when your mind is quiet? When your mind is not being defensive or justifying past and future behaviors and beliefs, it is more quiet and peaceful. But for most of us, a quiet mind is a scary thing. What might we discover lurking in the depths of ourselves? The mind that is afraid of silence and discovery must always be defensive.
It must always seek retribution and justification for itself. Modern lifestyles, accelerated perceptions of time, the web, and coping with the poor economy encourages agitated minds, superficial distractions and escapism. All of these fold back into our minds making us feel restless and agitated. We become even more self-focused and defensive. Defensiveness is resistance. Resistance prevents understanding of others and oneself. When we fail to understand others and ourselves, we suffer unresolved issues. A vague sense of worry and unsatisfactoriness lingers in the background of our lives.
If you allow your mind to let go of the background and negativity, you will encourage a quiet mind. If you practice acceptance of this quiet mind, you can effectively resolve any difficulty you have in dealing with the past and future. You will find that the peace and restfulness will calm the unhappy, unaccepting nature of your pact with the Devil inside.
The Blue Jay of Happiness thanks you for exploring this issue with the writer.