Beginners on a ski slope make a good study in worry-consciousness: chins jutting forward, rear ends jutting backward, knees bent as if they thought the slope was planning to attack them, arms stiff and flailing as though they expected, after the fall, to be reincarnated as windmills. But most people have to be extra attentive to the details of a thing while they’re still learning it. The worrier goes them one better. He remains at his post far beyond the call of duty. He goes on acting the novice — tense, apprehensive — long after he should have learned to “stand up and flow with the slope.”
I remember a friend of mine in college (in fact it was Julius Katchen, whose remarkable talent as a pianist later brought him fame) passing my window one day, shaking his fists in the air and crying, “Problems! Problems!” That image has always lingered in my mind as epitomizing the attitude so typical of the worrier. Julius couldn’t have had all that much to emote over, except maybe finding another tenor for the glee club. But he looked as though the problems of the universe were nesting in his hair.
The basic problem of the beginning skier is too much concern for his own body. The basic problem of the chronic worrier is too much concern for himself. This concern may express itself in various ways — as excessive self-consciousness, or an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the success of every undertaking, or a tendency to hover protectively over others like a mother hen, or even (strange to say) as absent-mindedness and inattention to the outward details of living — a result of being absorbed in too many inward-drawing, mental vortices. The first lesson, then, for every worrier is to learn to relax, to offer himself more and more freely into life’s flow.
Unfortunately, the worrier even more than most people finds it difficult to see life as a flow. As his exaggerated sense of ego (please understand, I don’t mean egotism, or pride) separates him mentally from the rest of the world, so he tends to fragment things objectively, too, to see them in terms of separations. Details of one kind and another, usually minor, absorb him. Again, over-attentiveness to his little self creates in him a bias toward minutiae, such that even if an enemy army invaded his country his chief concern might be over what the invaders were doing to the condition of the roads. In other words, he loses the sense of objective proportion.
But the world is not divided into two classes of people — the worriers and the non-worriers. Most of us worry sometimes, and most worriers are at times full of confidence. I’m writing here of a general line of human development, not of rigid categories of people and behavior. In fact, the tendency to break things up mentally into categories is both a symptom of worry-consciousness and, to a greater or lesser degree, a weakness of most of the human race.
Even moderately good skiers, who can afford to forget their bodies and think more about the problems of the slope, betray their lack of expertise in the exaggerated attention they give to every bump and turn. The mark of an expert is not only the fact that he knows how to execute the necessary movements, but that he sees the slope as a continuity; he absorbs the obstacles as they come, into a sense of graceful, flowing movement.
Remember, faith is a dynamic practice, not a passive acceptance of whatever you believe to be true. Try exercising more of this sort of faith — in life, and especially in God. Even if life doesn’t always seem like much of a flow to you, depend more on God’s power to work things out always for the best. The more you dynamically, lovingly offer your life and ego to Him, and the more you think of Him as the real Doer even when it is you who seem to be acting, the more amazed you will be to see how very capable He is of running things quite competently Himself!
Our job as human beings is to try to do His will, but at the same time to understand that we can never be more than willing soldiers in the eternal war of light against darkness. We must do our best, but it is not for us to decide the outcome even of minor skirmishes. That is why the Bhagavad Gita says that one should act willingly, but leave the results of his actions to God. (Nishkam karma the Gita calls it: desireless action.)
Always remember, worry-consciousness, and the tendency to fragment reality into separate, static, mental images, not only creates problems where none really exist, but actually interferes with one’s efforts to resolve problems where they do exist. The worrier tends to think that he alone is realistic in a world of daft dreamers, but in fact he would be much more realistic if he saw himself as he really is: a humble soldier in the struggle of life, not a general; and if he saw life as it really is: a divine flow.