John Shoemaker is a meditation instructor and mindfulness coach, a writer, musician, and also works full-time in the field of mental health and substance abuse recovery. His website is johnshoemaker.net.
Unless you live in a secluded monastery somewhere in the mountains or have already reached a state of Nirvana, odds are, like me, you are regularly tempted to worry about things. If we don’t have the things we need, we might worry about how we are going to get them. If we do have the things we need, and maybe even some of the things we want, we could worry that we might somehow lose them. This goes for relationships, jobs, our health, our homes, etc.
We could worry that our kids might do something bad or have something bad happen to them; then again, they might be so good that we’ll then have to worry about them getting into a top tier college we can’t afford. As far as the potential sources for worrying, there seems to be no escape. No matter who or where we are or aren’t, or what we have or don’t have, as long as we’re alive we are going to be faced with endless opportunities to worry.
Recently, my car was making some noises. I was feeling a little vibration and hearing a fluttering noise when I accelerated. Then when I got up to about 50 miles per hour there was an unrhythmic tapping sound coming from somewhere. Was a belt loose? One time in my twenties I had a belt fly off and my whole car just died on the highway. I didn’t have any money at the time so that was an ordeal. I certainly didn’t want that to happen again if I could avoid it.
The longer this went on the more I found to worry about. I started wondering if the dealership screwed something up the last time I took the car in? That seemed like a reasonable possibility, as I was just there recently. If they did mess something up then should I take it back to them or just have someone else that I trust more take it from here? What to do, what to do? So many worries, so little time.
I decided to go with a new mechanic, but I kept getting distracted and not making the call and all the while becoming more and more fixated on the sounds and vibrations. I tried turning up the radio to drown out the disconcerting noises, but to no avail. The more that time passed, the more possibilities I began to consider. Did I have a transmission issue, I wondered, because I could swear that the movement between gears wasn’t as smooth as it once was? Or, perhaps something weird was going on with my engine, like something jamming things up and causing a slight hesitation which I now thought I might also be feeling. My worried mind conjured up images of the pistons being impeded somehow, or god knows what. I mean you never know, even though the car was only a few years old, it could be a late blooming lemon, right?
After a few weeks of this self-inflicted torture, I finally made the call to the new mechanic, got an appointment scheduled, and took the car into the shop. Let me tell you, in my mind, me and the car barely made it in before something blew. I felt a deep sense of relief as I pulled in, put it in park and went in to turn over the keys and explain the details to the mild-mannered mechanic. He listened patiently and nodded as I ran down my list of symptoms and possible causes. Now mind you, I know virtually nothing about the inner workings of cars, but in his masterful way, bless his heart, he never even slightly let on that he noticed my paranoid ignorance. He calmly asked a few basic questions and said he’d take it for a drive, assess the situation then give me a call later in the day to let me know what he discovered. So, I headed off to work in my wife’s car and waited to hear back from him, preparing myself for the worst and praying for a break.
Later in the afternoon, my prayers were answered! It turned out that a heat shield was loose, causing the sounds and vibrations I had been noticing. The mechanic’s overall assessment of the car was that it ran fine. There was no loose belt, no engine problems, no transmission issues. Essentially, it was no big deal. He was going to put a clamp on the heat shield to solve the problem. He had to order it, and said I could come back the following week and he’d fix it right up.
I thanked him and headed down the same road that I’d been driving down for weeks worrying all that time over problems that hadn’t even existed. I cranked up the radio in a state of joyful relief and had a good laugh at my insanity. Like so many other things in life, the problems had mostly been in my mind. All it took was someone with knowledge to tell me what was actually going on and let me know that basically, everything was fine. After that, even though the mechanic hadn’t made the repair yet, I barely even noticed the sounds and vibrations. They were still there, but as far as I was concerned, the car was already as good as fixed.
As I arrived home, it occurred to me that this same process unfolds each time I meditate. The racing thoughts and negative emotions I observe, process, and let go of while meditating are like the sounds and vibrations of my car that now no longer bothered me. My innermost self that I connect with in the stillness and silence of my practice is like the experienced mechanic who is there to support and reassure me. In the end, meditation helps me to see the bigger picture of life, redirecting me away from the temptations of endless worry, and ultimately reminding me that even though things sometimes break or wear out, everything is going to be okay.
Enjoy your travels!