Something happened the night Worry appeared to me.
Some of us are chronic worriers. There’s probably an adaptive reason for this, since humans who envisioned potential dangers would be more likely to survive and pass on their genes. But saber-toothed tigers aren’t lurking by our front doors these days. I know for a fact that worry generates misery while producing absolutely no benefit. Giving it up, however, isn’t an easy matter. Worry runs in our heads like movies of disaster to come, unbidden yet powerful, making some of us wary of the smallest choices and some of us heedless of real danger.
I worried from the earliest time I can remember. It may have an adaptive start in my life too. As a tiny child I spent many nights struggling to breathe through asthma attacks. When I was five years old I got a bit of food caught in my esophagus and stayed awake all night spitting my saliva into a bowl, since even a moment’s inattention caused it to run down my windpipe and sent me into fits of choking, until a surgeon removed it the next day. The year I turned nine my grandparents all died, catapulting me into years of obsessive worry that everyone else I loved would die too. At 13 I was assaulted by an adult and the focus of my worry widened as I spent years searching for the causes of evil and suffering. Worry continued to be my companion when I hit my 20’s. Each of my babies were born with medical problems. The unknown dangers threatening even the most innocent lives suddenly lived in my house. Chances are my chronic insomnia has roots in all this worry.
One night as I lay awake worrying I had an experience that profoundly changed me. That night I had plenty of things to worry about: serious concerns about my children’s health, our finances, and other problems. Normally I fought off worry with gratitude—focusing on the comfort of my family sleeping safely nearby and the many blessings in my life. But worry was there haunting my mind and hollowing my body.
Suddenly as a car crash, something happened. I know it sounds bizarre but it was as real as the lamp on my desk is now. I became aware of a huge black column next to my bed. It was comprised of the most immense energy I’d ever experienced. It was dark and powerful with a presence that seemed alive and completely aware of my thoughts. I had the sense that it was of such infinite size and strength that it went through the floor and out the roof, stretching far in both directions. I should have been more frightened, but the moment this column appeared I realized, as if the message hit all my cells at once, that I had summoned this darkness.
It was born of my own intense worry. It was a profound lesson that went through me in the way wisdom does, filling not just our brains but also our bodies and souls. Lying there, I resolved to bring forth every ounce of light I could muster.
The instant I thought to do this, whatever that column was disappeared.
I woke my husband to tell him. He kindly assured me that I was nuts. Until this post I’ve only told one other friend. But in today’s atmosphere of worry, I wanted to share this image—of fear so huge that it manifests next to you. It taught me that worry is a kind of unintentional evil. It presupposes things will go wrong. It’s the opposite of faith.
I’m not entirely cured of worrying nor would I ever change those earlier years of worry. They’ve made me stronger, more open to the beauty found just beyond despair, and left me with a positive quest. But ever since that moment, years ago, I have made a conscious effort to reorient myself. Ironically, my family has been through times more difficult than I could have imagined back when this happened—crime, financial hardship, loss, and grief. But I know the antidote—to shine forth with all the light I can. Some days I’m practically a parasite on optimism. But really, if all my moments of hope coalesce into some kind of vision, I can’t wait to see it.