How to stop worrying and let life unfold instead

Ferns unfolding...

My adult life so far looks like this:

After school, I went to Leeds university to study French

I changed to Philosophy

Then I went to London to be a photographer, which didn’t really work out

So I decided to go and live abroad for a while, and wrote to language academies in Paris, Madrid and Barcelona, about training to be an English teacher

Madrid answered first, saying, ‘you can start in 2 weeks’, so I did

I intended to move to the sea after that month’s training in Madrid

But they offered me a job in the same academy at the end of the course

Delighted, I stayed

Then I wanted to leave at the end of the first year and head for the sea again

But I met Marina (who is now my wife), so I stayed

And after a few more years teaching English I became a translator

Then started making websites

Until the one about learning Spanish turned into our job

We had a child

The Spanish website did better and better and now gives us time for other projects

Like thinking and writing about happiness and mindfulness and things like that…

And that’s how my adult life has unfolded so far from one moment to the next. How French led to Philosophy, and Philosophy led to Photography, and one month in Madrid has become 14 years. How not having a clue what to do with my life has turned into a wonderful life.

And yet, at almost any of the above stages I could have added ‘…and I worried madly about what to do next, until…’ …the next thing happened!

Almost every transition was fraught with indecision – and in particular, every seven years, by a major crisis! The transition from trying to be a photographer in London, to moving to Spain (aged 25), 7 years later from English teacher to starting to make a living from websites (aged 32), and 7 years later, only recently, from only thinking about our Spanish website business to “what else could I do now?”

Lots of worry and indecision, and big 7 year crises. But if I take them out of the story, and look at my adult life as the above list, I can see how well it has simply unfolded. There was no need for all that constant worry about ‘what to do with my life’, ‘what am I going to be’, ‘am I making the right decision’. All I had to do was move forward and see what happened next!

A French Zen Master named Thay Doji said this to me once during a meditation retreat in Spain. Detecting somehow that I was prone to hold life at arms length instead of standing upright in the present moment, he asked, “what are you afraid of?”

Remembering something he’d said, I replied parrot-fashion, “aren’t all our fears really fear of death?”

Paaa!” he said, “You’re still young, you don’t have to think about that! Just stop worrying and let life unfold from one moment to the next!”

Ferns and grasses and trees and clouds and rivers unfold, nature unfolds without worrying about it. When my latest 7 year crisis hit, for the first time in my life I was able to sit back and think, “ah, here it is again!” and despite a reasonable share of indecision and fretting, this time I knew at last to embrace the crisis, and to wait and see, with great interest, what happens.

All I have to do is to put one foot in front of the other, acting on my intuition and interests, and life will gently unfold.

So as for the question, “How to stop worrying and let life unfold instead?” …the answer is simple:

1. Stop worrying (Embrace a crisis! Follow your interests! Take a step!)

2. Let life unfold from one moment to the next…

 

10 thoughts on “How to stop worrying and let life unfold instead”

  1. Hear hear! Or is it , here here? In any event, thanks for sharing your perspective here Ben. You and I are about the same age, and my has life unfolded in much the same fashion. Lots of seemingly random twists and turns. Lots of entirely self-generated crises (every 4 years, in my case).

    I like how you write. Very smooth, sincere. Too bad you deleted that novel! I might’ve enjoyed reading it! :0)

  2. I’ve been there too, in regards to the seven-year mark. Somewhere in my mid-forties, I came to realize that most things take care of themselves eventually.
    And now that I have entered my 50s, I no longer worry about anything as long as I stay in good health.

    One interesting question I once read – ask people to write down their worries.
    Ask them six months later and you find out that for 90% of the people,their worries/problems took care of themselves.

    A good lesson learned – write down your worries today and six months from now, you might even wonder why it worried you much back then.Give life a chance.

  3. @Bob – Thanks Bob, as for the novel, it was such an unedited mess that I’m not sure you would have enjoyed it very much! Perhaps I’ll have a go at another one some day.

    @Maria – That’s an interesting exercise, and I believe you, life sorts things out one way or another given a chance and a bit of time – so why we all start out worrying so much is beyond me! Where do we learn to worry?!

  4. Hello Ben,

    just discovered your blog – what a lovely picture and story!
    My current crisis has lasted longer than I expected (although within it I don’t worry very much until other people come in and point out that I should). I find difficult to shake off the external societal and parental expectations to “make it” in a specific shape or form, “achieve” a certain status, income level and such. Even though I think I can be pretty happy without those, once in a while I start doubting myself. Also all this talk about “living on purpose” strangely attracts me and at the same time makes me anxious.
    Thanks for your perspective. Books on Buddhism and local meditation group are a great support on my Journey.

    May your days be filled with joy and lightness,
    Marianna
    NYC

  5. @Marianna – Thank you for your comment. I think ‘turning off the striving’ that we have programmed into us, and reinforced again and again, is one of the hardest things to do, and something that causes an enormous amount of trouble without us even realising – the fact that you are aware of it is a very good start I think. I hope to write more about that at some point, it’s been a really tricky area for me over the years. May your days also be filled with joy and lightness, Ben

    P.S. Here’s just added something on striving http://beinghappiness.com/striving-vs-being/

  6. Hi Ben, great post and right there with you. I have actually done the exercise Maria mentioned for the past decade. Not every worry of course (would be a long list…) but major things where I felt like I was kind of freaking out. I’ve structured them as
    -Context:
    -Fear: (because there is always a fear)
    -Initial Reaction
    -Resolution:
    -End Result:

    Each and every time…things unfold just fine. Many times better than I could have ever imagined on my own. Why is it so difficult to just trust? Takes practice and experience, surely, but its undoubtedly worth cultivating.

  7. Hi Ben,

    Thank you so much for sharing this.
    My friend sent this post to me because I’m going through one of those inner turmoil times, but maybe not anymore. Perhaps I’ll take it in stride and look forward to what happens next :)

  8. your blog post just answered my college-life long question! at 22, i feel that i am soo weirdly different than my clear cut motivated peers. i always have this happy go lucky attitude when answering the drama of “what to be when you grow up,” i just (recklessly) think good things will come my way, which is not in line with how people around me think, and they see me as unmotivated for not really knowing what i see myself in the next five, ten, 25 years. and this has got me feeling guilty all this time, thinking i could have thought better, planned better, be better. i was so scared that i will not turn out as good as my plan-driven friends. your post just calmed me down, because at the back of my mind, i feel than even though i may not know yet what i’ll be doing in the future, i have an inkling that it will be awesome and i wont be a waste of my parents’ tuition. and you have just assured me of that. love from jakarta, indonesia, thank you very much for this post. you saved me from drowning myself in my negative thoughts!

    1. Thanks so much to you too Titis for letting me know it helped, and good luck – It sounds like you are on the right track. Saludos from Madrid! Ben

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