“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying.” -The Dalai Lama
“Don’t worry. Be Happy.” -Bobby McFerrin
Twenty-two years ago this week, a storm with the awesome name “Super-Typhoon Herb” destroyed the house where Caroline and I lived on a mountain in Taiwan. Or, more accurately, Herb triggered a mudslide that flattened half the house. I was in the other half of the house at the time, as were our ten dogs (yes, ten—but that’s its own weird story). The fact that the pooches survived was thanks to me bringing them into our bedroom from the kennel behind our house where they normally would have sought shelter. The fact I survived was as much dumb luck as anything.
Whenever I bring this up, it’s sometimes because it’s a gnarly story, but more likely to remind Caroline about what she said to me during the two days I obsessively tracked Herb’s approach. Namely: “stop worrying so much.” Did I mention Caroline was far away from this carnage visiting her mother at the time? In sunny Hawaii? It’s a detail I often forget.
To be fair to my darling Tashi, I was fretting compulsively about something over which I had no control. To be fair to me, my concern was warranted in this case, and some of the steps I took in the face of this threat did indeed make a difference. The Truth, as it often is, can be found somewhere in the middle.
The fact is, I’ve made a lifetime quest of trying to find the sweet spot between productive concern about looming challenges and pointless worrying over hypothetical threats. The closer I’ve gotten to achieving that balance, the better the overall quality of my life has been. And while I’m still to get it just right, I think I’ve found the one thing that makes the difference between the two approaches: Action. Am I actively doing something to be ready if things go bad? Am I moving decisively in a chosen direction? Or am I circling around some fear or another—a lot of motion but no movement?
Not surprisingly, the Martial Arts have helped me find that formula. Our training is itself decisive action towards better physical and mental health, and readiness in the face of danger. But it also teaches us to breathe, even in the most stressful situations, and to know that action is always an option. That’s not to say the occasional super-typhoon won’t blow through our lives, leaving in its wake all kinds of carnage. Luck, good and bad, will always play a hand. But the weather is the weather, and no amount of worrying will every change that. If we take steps to prepare for what the weather brings, then we can rest easy and assured that we’ve done all we can.