(Don’t) Worry; Be Happy

You may remember the song, “Don’t Worry; Be Happy.” It’s a catchy tune and a fine message, usually. If you practice yoga, you have probably practiced being in the moment, which usually suggests a state of blissful trust in the universe. In other words, you’re without worry.

Sometimes worry is healthy

In the book “Aging as a Spiritual Practice,” author and Buddhist priest Lew Richmond writes about “healthy” worry. He describes the Buddhist concept of the “middle way,” comparing it to a lute string. In order to produce the best sound, a lute string must be in balance, that is, not too loose and not too tight.

My mom (who gave me the book to read) pointed this out once when we were discussing retirement. Realizing I had some concerns about having enough to live on in retirement, she said, “They say live in the moment, but how can you do that?”

Since I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the future, I thought I knew the answer. “You have to be aware of the future and make plans for the future, but it’s probably not healthy to live in the future,” I suggested. It sounded right, at least from a yogi’s point of view.

The future depends on you

I guess the point is if you go through life in denial and truly live only in the moment, you will eventually encounter unpleasant moments. The unfortunate reality of having to save for retirement is one example.

I’ve encountered several people who have sworn to me the “universe” would provide for them, that things would happen “in time.” And I wasn’t too surprised to find out years later that they’d made no real progress toward their goals (if they had any goals to begin with).

On the other hand, if we spend our lives obsessing about numbers (living in the future) or stressed out over how to be sure our lives go according to plan, we’ll likely be miserable for many more moments than if we go through life with trust and awareness of how the present unfolds into the future.

And to be fair, some of those people who trusted the universe either got lucky or truly did have the universe on their side.

Our past does not disappear

Similarly, there’s no real way to be in the present if we have no connection to the past. Our past contributes to what is going on in our lives at this moment. Again, living in the past (brooding, regretting or wishing to return to “glory days”) is not useful. But recalling pleasant memories or appreciating the value of lessons we learned in childhood enriches each present moment, doesn’t it?

Learning to live in the present moment is (along with learning how to breathe) one of the best gifts I’ve received from my yoga practice. I could spend a lot of time feeling sad about things I’ve lost or fearing what will happen in the future, but thankfully, I don’t, at least not too often.

Keeping the Lute Strings in Balance

I try to spend just enough time in the past or future to keep my lute string balanced so I can make the best possible music. When I find myself tightening the string too much, I trust that I can take a step back and stop worrying, at least for a moment.

And when I realize I do need to work toward a goal for the future, I tighten that string just a bit more, but not so much that I forget to appreciate the gift of living in this beautiful moment and trusting I’ll make (mostly) the right choices as the future unfolds.

The past, present and future cannot really be separated. But maybe this is just a matter of perspective. No one can be in exactly the right place at all times; we need to learn how to make adjustments, to loosen and tighten that lute string as we move through a series of present moment. That’s the beautiful practice of the “middle way.”

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Maria Kuzmiak, M.A. is a health and well-being writer with a background in nutrition, psychology and education and a passion for yoga. She has written hundreds of articles, blogs and newsletters for clients in health-related fields, particularly those specializing in yoga, natural medicine, nutrition, and spiritual health and healing. Maria has also worked as a nutritionist, teacher and technical editor. Learn more about her writing at www.wellbeingwriter.net.

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