The Worry List: Staying Present in Face of (Un)Certain Peril. (Part Two)
When last we met, it was 3 AM in Cusco, Peru, and I was wide-awake, feeling like I was going to die of anxiety.
All day, I had been haunted by the voice of the ferret-like travel doctor: “Altitude sickness can be very serious.” So, at dinner, to calm myself, I took a Diamox, which is supposed to quell altitude sickness and prevent your eyes from popping out. My son informed me that I was only supposed to take half a pill, not the whole thing I had just swallowed. The effect of my double dose was that middle-of-the-night Cusco panic attack on the eve of our 50-mile, 16,000 foot hike. That’s half the height of a plane’s cruising altitude! The very thing I had taken to calm myself had cranked up my worry to an 11.
I lay there in the dark, certain that my lack of sleep meant that items 1-5 on my worry list were now guarantees, and we hadn’t even set out yet.
Here’s what happened: The hike was hard. The only way to get through it was to focus on one step, one breath at a time. The moment I looked up to see the series of switchbacks that lay ahead, my will and morale would falter. When I stayed with what I was doing in the moment, I found a tempo and calmness that got us to the top of Salkentay Pass at 16,000 ft.
After the trip, my daughter and I went over our worry list to see what came true:
#1 Sleeping poorly -Only that first night in Cusco. (Thanks, Diamox!)
#11 Panic from sensory overload – Only in Vegas for my daughter
#14 Lost luggage – Between Vegas and home. Delivered the next day. No big deal.
Nothing else on the list came to fruition! All those hours planning and worrying, and we returned with nothing to show for ourselves but a couple minor inconveniences, some unused oxygen canisters and enough assorted medicines to save the Incas at the height of their reign.
I worry a lot. I worry about my work, my health, my kids. I spend tons of time
worrying. But why? It seems like what I need to be doing instead is trusting.
Trusting that if something crappy/unexpected/surprising happens I will figure it
out. Trusting that being relentlessly present is a better way to live then being
constantly worried. You’d think by now I would have figured this out, but I’m still learning.
I’m going to keep making worry lists. They seem helpful and not just for trips. I’ll scribble them down for my next presentation, performance, exhibition, important conversation. Give it a try as well. After it’s all over, go back to see what really happened. My hope for us both is that the lists will be mostly unrealized and that, over time, this practice will help us let go of advance worry and deal with the reality that meets us in the moment.