I have been working on this lecture based on Marie Howe's poem,Magdalene– The Seven Devils. For now, I am taking one devil at a time, beginning with worry:
I ask myself, how much of my day has been captured by worry?
For example, when I was contemplating this poem as the subject for this lecture, I kept thinking about the last line:
And that I didn’t think you— if I told you – would understand any of this -
I worried, having chosen this subject, what have I done?! It is in the voice of Mary Magdalene, who little is known about and is herself misunderstood and controversial– how will I be able to make sense of this poem myself, and then communicate it to you?
My choice was either to keep worrying or start writing!
So I cast out this devil called worry by setting aside time each day to write– without concerning myself about how it sounded. That would come later.
How different is my day if I cast out worry? It is the difference, I think, between being thirsty and and not picking up the glass in front of you– and being thirsty and having the refreshment of a long cool drink of clear water.
Worry keeps us from being able to drink the water in front of us.
So worry is a devil not just because it's unpleasant, but because it keeps us from seeing what can be done in the moment. When I was talking to Steven about this idea, he recounted a Twilight Zone episode where a man had been captured and tied up by the bad guys, and was sat in front of a clock ticking toward two o'clock, at which time the bomb in his room would explode. He was so paralyzed with worry that he did not see the sharp instrument right in front of him that would cut the rope that bound him.
Action, what we do, takes place in the present. Worry takes you out of action in the present because it is anxiety about the future.
What is the medicine you need for worry, for your desire to be unburdened?
Fundamentally, it is the decision to put down your worry by doing something that nourishes and restores you. It could be walking, making, singing, dancing, meditation or a hot bath! Doing anything that relaxes, or requires our full attention. Whatever we do with full attention, no matter how small, is prayer. Finding something that our hands enjoy doing in an atmosphere free of distraction eventually leads to the body and spirit falling open, and we become a receiver. Worry fades and dissolves as the connection to something deeper is cultivated.
I am reminded of a story I heard a famous writer tell, as she was being asked about her commitment to her daily writing practice. She said:
One night there was a violent thunderstorm, and when I went to my studio the next morning I saw that part of the roof was gone, and water was streaming in. I sat down on the steps and I said to myself: "Well first I will do some writing– then I will figure out what to do with this roof!".
And this is what it takes!
This story illustrates the kind of dedication where work becomes daily practice in a sacred space.
(Art by Harriet Goode in her Border Crossing Series: a great image for casting out worry!)
This practice is a buffer against worry and anxiety– which, after all, only add to the size of the problem. It is supported by the abandonment of the dictatorship of time and duty, the sense of being driven, of being ahead or being behind. We find ourselves in an open field where the inner and outer world are in communion.
It is a place of giving each thing the time it deserves instead of rushing to a solution.
We cannot worry and be in the zone at the same time!
Worry cancels inspiration, and inspiration cancels worry.