Do Birds Worry?
Sitting in my car, parked in the driveway of our new apartment, I watched birds picking out worms from inside a decaying rat thrown out to rot. From the birds perspective, this was a feast and I imagined the worms were ramen — fat, juicy, plenteous ramen.
“These birds are having a time of their lives.” I thought. Then my thoughts wandered to the words of the preacher:
26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;
29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
New King James Version
Prior to stumbling on the feasting birds, I have reflected on worrying, and what it meant to me. I had reached a conclusion that there is a huge part of my life that isn’t determined by my actions or inactions. In those areas where I can do little to alter the outcome of my situation, I have learnt to be detached, knowing that worrying would only tire me out. I have found out that my worries balloon when I struggle with control — not just of the situation but of the timing. When my aspirations don’t happen in the time I anticipate it should, I catch myself worrying. So, I am learning to embrace patience while waiting for the opportune time to take back control and make choices that can affect the desired outcome. I have realized that the only time within my control is NOW, and I have developed a habit of celebrating my wins on the go, and consciously silencing the voice of worry when it speaks up. I don’t put my life on hold for the firework ending.
I have also come to terms with the harsh reality that my best dreams may not come true despite my best intentions.
It was against this mental backdrop that I observed the feasting birds, and reflected on the words of the preacher. In my universe, worrying has a direct relationship with our aspirations. Beyond birds’ daily foraging and staying cautious to avoid predators, do they think of becoming more? Do they strive for faraway fields that offered different experiences? I am not versed in avian cultures, but of humans, I know a little. I know we are endowed with a brain that tinkers with things in their natural state to better suit our needs. Our minds can also create challenges and saddle us with the burden of finding a solution. Those challenges may become occupations that give us a sense of direction and purpose. And this, in my opinion is the source of creativity and worry — a desire to affect the natural course of events, and the resulting stress of doing so. The burden of unmet aspirations could become a source of great stress and worry, especially when our personal and societal definition of failure closely aligns with unmet expectations.
Worry, in itself is not as bad as it is often made to be. It is there as an emotional response that can prompt other responses. However, worry impairs the mind when we turn it into a destination. I have identified these 3 stages in my often complex interaction with my aspirations, and at each stage I am learning to isolate the cause of worry and what I can do to avoid its negative impact on my health — both mind and body.
The 3 Stages of Aspiration
1. The initiation
2. The journey
3. The response
How we respond to worry at each stage, goes a long way in determining the quality of our life, and at times, how long we live.
This is the starting point where one embraces the idea and defines the aspiration. I need a new car, house, job … I want to conquer the world, travel the world, create … I must have money, fame, power. Regardless of what the subject is, the starting point where we decide that what we want to achieve is important enough to merit our time, resources and energy. I have learnt that paying attention at this point is arguably the most critical key to our happiness. Because of our mind’s ability to endlessly generate thoughts of what we can or can’t do, we must be double conscious of what we eventually adopt as worth pursuing as an aspiration. I often ask myself, “Is this thing important? Is it worth my time and energy? To what end?” The last question, “To what end?” has helped me to greatly moderate my wandering mind’s tendency of spreading my energies too thin by chasing too many dreams. When I can’t reasonably answer the question, “To what end,” I drop the thought. Too many times, I have borne unnecessary burdens and worried over aspirations that tuned out to have no real value.
I recall a friend who struggled so hard to become a millionaire in naira, back in the day when a million naira was worth something. We sat at a bar celebrating this achievement and all the work that had gone into it, but I sensed he wasn’t as excited as I had imagined he would, given the work he had put into it.
“What is the problem?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” He answered.
“Now that I have it, I don’t know what to do with it, or what to do about it.”
When our mind has settled on a cause and seeks to actively pursue it, a lot of things happen. Our mind summons inner strength for us to achieve that purpose. Our lives adapt quickly to its demands, and for aspirations fueled by deep passion, our whole life tunnels towards achieving it. As long as we have justified its importance and infused it with passion, the ‘why’ of the aspiration rarely matters. Kings have decimated entire civilizations and sacrificed thousands of their citizens on ego trips, or for love or for whatever reasons they feel justified to pursue their aspirations. The corner where worry lurks on the route to actualizing our dreams is when the road forks to a path that isn’t in our best laid plans or when the journey just seems much longer than we anticipated.
I am learning to see time as an ally and respecting the place of the pause, or the rest. I imagine my journey to aspiration as a music cadence as I ride the undulating notes, sometimes high, sometimes low, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but proceeding notwithstanding. Like a musician, I am learning to honor the rests, and hold my thoughts still while counting the beats — even when the beats in my score sheet are indeterminate. I hold still and keep my eyes on Life’s wand, waiting for the right time. All these, are part of the ensemble and I am learning to embrace it. As regards plans, I don’t take the plan to the letter. I only follow its guiding direction. I find out that my worry dissipates whenever I take this stance of standing back and watching things unfold despite my best laid plans, and then picking out the point to jump back in, or pivot to continue the ride.
How we respond to success or failure in our aspirations is critical. Our definitions of success and failure matter. What we focus upon in the eventual outcome matters. All these matters because from the initiation through the journey to actualization, we often invest immense mental and physical resources, and most times, how we interpret the end goal determines whether we feel that we have ‘wasted’ our life, or that we spent it doing something worthwhile. This singular notion of life well spent or wasted, constantly pulls the strings to our feeling of joy and happiness. So, how we interpret and navigate it is important.
I have learnt not to take success or failure too seriously. It passes too quickly in my opinion. The journey offers more experience for me than the ‘end point’ that lasts just a brief moment. In the broad scheme of things, I have come to a keener sense of this transience. Say for example, I need to pass an examination (that is the aspiration) and I have decided that it is one worth investing my life into. I then study hard for months, and then the big day arrives with its jitters and all. I go in, sit and write it. Then later on, I check my results and I am successful. At that moment, I am overwhelmed with happiness but too quickly, that feeling passes, and I find myself asking that ubiquitous question, “What next?” The euphoria of that moment lasts for an inordinately shorter period of time compared to the journey. On the converse, let us say I failed. After brooding, I end up asking myself the same question, “What next?”
What this has taught me is that I am a sentient being that exists in a continuum, and there are really no destinations, just mile markers. Rather than focus on those markers, I enjoy the journey and the process of continuously being because both my biggest successes and worst failures have come and passed with time, and what remains with me are the things I have taken away from the experience, and the things I am still doing with those experiences. A cue to the intricate connectivity of all our life events, and the never ending journey that Life itself is. So whether the outcome of my aspiration is success or failure, I am learning to respond on the go, celebrate the wins, count the losses and see Life as a continuum. The big difference this perspective offers is that, in a continuum, there is no inadequacy. We may freeze certain periods in time and spotlight the deficiencies of that period, but as a whole, it is a constant balance of highs and lows that always evens out. I often refrain from absolutes, but for my perspective on Life, it always evens out.
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
New King James Version
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