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Barbara O'Brien

Weather and Worry

By October 28, 2012

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Hurricane Sandy is expected to roll through my area Monday evening, New York time. I am no where near a flood zone and am prepared with flashlights, candles, water, and no-need-to-cook food in case the power goes out. I don't have a backup plan for the Internet, though, so if I lose power I may disappear for a few days.

While I'm not much worried about Sandy, I have been thinking about worry. "Restlessness and worry" are said to be the fourth of the Five Hindrances.  But while doing research I learned that the Pali word often translated as "worry," kukkucca, actually means "remorse." The Buddha doesn't seem to have given any specific advice for worry.

So where was worry all those centuries ago? Anxiety? Stress? Being a nervous wreck? Was life really so different that it wasn't a problem?

Anyway, I've been working on an article about practicing with worry, which is also an article about practicing with chronic anxiety. I've had my own struggles with chronic anxiety, which makes a meditation practice a particular challenge. Feel free to discuss, and if I don't lose power I will join in.

October 29, 2012 at 12:53 am
(1) Hein says:

Metta to all the people awaiting the “landing of sandy” on the eastern seaboard of the US and especially you Barbara (the only person I know who lives in the US).
Secondly I am glad you raised the point of “fear” and worry from a Buddhist perspective. Sandy aside; there is also a lot of anxiety going around about the Maya calender, the whole 2012 (end-of-the-world) thing and the economic situation worldwide.
Worries and anxiety must have been part of the world for as long as we are on this planet. It is part of our human make-up.
“Remorse” – perhaps it has to do with our karmic roots. Something along this line:”I am now in this space due to my previous karmic seeds. Thus I should calmly practice by purifying myself and not create any further negative karmic seeds.” More to the point; in this space I am now I should do the best that I can do. I don’t know if that is what the Buddha meant?

October 29, 2012 at 1:04 am
(2) Hein says:

Something to add: another approach might perhaps be to concentrate on the paramita of generosity. Part of that paramita is to “give fearlessness”. I have found when doing that my own worries tend to deminish. By getting all wrapped up in my own anxieties and worries just gives it too much energy. But I am still on a learning curve with all of this :)

October 29, 2012 at 6:25 am
(3) Dan Garner says:

Did Buddha not indirectly address worry? When we focus on living now, not concentrating on the past nor the future then I think we are addressing worry. I rarely experience worry when living in the now. Worry enters when i worry about the future.

Dan @ ZenPresence.com

October 29, 2012 at 8:20 am
(4) Barbara O'Brien says:

Dan — I’m not sure “focus on the present” is necessarily the best advice for someone with a genuine anxiety disorder. Some big honking trauma or a lifetime of fearful thinking has to be dealt with directly. “Focus on the present” can turn into repression, which doesn’t work.

What happens is that you may have gotten pretty good at never consciously revisiting the past and just staying in the present, but in a long meditation retreat the big ugly thing you’re ignoring comes up and roars at you. There was a time years ago I had to suspend sitting sesshins because they were giving me panic attacks.

October 29, 2012 at 7:15 am
(5) Hein says:

Kindly bear with me for hogging this blog like this. Anxieties and worries appear to be part of my daily life. Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron said that a good teacher will help you learn to trust yourself. “You begin to trust in your basic goodness instead of identifying with your neurosis,” she said. An important feature of this goodness is (i think) our Buddha-nature. Personally I have found that the practice of chanting/reciting the Buddha’s name takes a lot of my anxieties away…simply doing the practice.
Here is a story about Chan Master Chao-Chou about the Buddha and his worries.

October 29, 2012 at 7:18 am
(6) Hein says:

Worry enters when i worry about the future.
So right…a good rule of thumb I live by is “remember the past and plan for the future, but breath (and recite the Buddha’s name) in the present”. :)

October 29, 2012 at 9:03 am
(7) Mila says:

Wishing you & all east-coast friends well, Barbara. The upside of losing electricity for a few days in a city (assuming overall damage is not too outrageous) is, of course, the newly-magnificent night sky …..

Hein — re: “there is also a lot of anxiety going around about the Maya calender, the whole 2012 (end-of-the-world) thing” — it has recently been established, fairly conclusively, that the Mayan calendar has another 7,000 years or so on it. So …. one less thing to worry about :)

October 30, 2012 at 4:08 am
(8) Jen says:

Thank you, Barbara. Now I see why I’ve been having difficulty getting started on meditation – my anxiety. For so long, I’ve felt that all the well-meaning instructions and suggestions on mindfulness and meditation kept missing the point and didn’t know why. So many times, I wished I could just have someone holding my hand and leading me in …

October 30, 2012 at 9:31 am
(9) Barbara O'Brien says:

Jen — what I eventually realized is that people who are not plagued by chronic anxiety have no idea how hard it is to meditate for those who do. For years I heard people say that zazen is refreshing and enjoyable for them, while for me it was nearly always a struggle. But the anxiety doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you (really!), and it doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong. Just acknowledge the anxiety and set it free; don’t try to control it or stuff it back into the bottle. And, as I said, sometimes you may have to give yourself permission to back off from meditation a little, because you don’t want to train yourself to associate meditation with terror. I think that’s what was happening with me when I started having panic attacks.

October 30, 2012 at 5:20 pm
(10) hein says:

reciting a mantra – for instance ‘om mani peme hung’ – with sincerity – i have – found also alleviate anxiety….merely another/different mode of practice and not an issue of ‘and/or’….commencing with mantra reciting followed by zazen (when the mind is calmer) seems to work for me…different ‘horses for courses’ i suppose :)

October 30, 2012 at 6:53 pm
(11) Barbara O'Brien says:

Hein — that’s good advice.

October 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm
(12) hein says:

Bodhisattva Mila
you know too well how to ‘give fearlessness’….thank you :)

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