Embodied Transformation & Evolution

The Need to Worry ~ India & the uncontrollable nature of life

Posted by on May 1, 2018 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 3 comments

The Need to Worry ~ India & the uncontrollable nature of life

Many years ago, when my daughter was about ten, we left our home in the Himalayas of northern India, and went back to Canada for the summer. Trips back to the west were an ordeal for most of us, with some improbable delights thrown in. We took a taxi down treacherous mountain roads just to reach New Delhi, riding for hour after hour through hazards such as floods, car wrecks, illness, landslides and intense heat. After eighteen hours in flight, we would land like disoriented migrant birds, reeling from jet lag and culture shock, preparing to face families that were not at all happy with the life we had chosen.

A few weeks before leaving for Canada, my daughter came to visit me one afternoon, to discuss our upcoming trip. “We’re leaving in three weeks,” she said, grimacing, “We’ve got to start worrying.” She was absolutely serious, and so innocent in her request, that I have never forgotten that moment. I come from a long line of dedicated worriers—she was expressing the voice of her lineage to me, as well advocating for her own personal practice of worrying.

The interesting thing is this: so many things could and did go catastrophically wrong in India that I trained my mind, over the years, to relax and not to worry. I accomplished this by imbibing the principles of the spiritual culture that permeates much of India: a belief that life moves because of vast and complex forces which cannot be understood or controlled, only surrendered to. These teachings often use the word ‘karma,’ to point to the greater mystery in which life unfolds, moment by moment.

I found it quite easy to open my mind to this perspective–it was a living belief system that was being expressed in many different ways and dimensions, all around me. And it was more than a belief system. The collective consciousness of India vibrates to a spiritual frequency that is viscerally palpable to many people, from the moment they arrive there. Such an approach to life can create a deep passivity, a disempowerment and helplessness. I saw a lot of that in India. People tolerate and accept many things, in the name of fate, or God’s will or karma, that desperately need to change, in my view. But somehow, the way it landed in my young western mind allowed me to simply relax and accept how much of life was completely out of my control.

Aditya Siva on Unsplash

As soon as we landed in Canada, however, my serene and surrendered state of mind was blown to tatters. It felt impossible to maintain it, living in a culture that was so dedicated to making things happen, being in charge, taking control of life. I became a nervous wreck when I was home for those visits: anxious, fretful, uneasy, unable to really settle down and enjoy myself deeply. I thought I was longing to go back home to the mountains. What I realize now is that I was really longing for a way to stop worrying, a way to trust more deeply in life, no matter where I was.

My daughter voiced this dilemma out loud: until that deeper trust is born in us, we feel we need to worry. It becomes a kind of addiction, or a dedicated practice. Worrying, in some strange way, gives us a feeling of being in control. Ask any parent with a child in trouble to relax their mind and give less energy to worrying, and they will look at you as if you’ve just asked them to fly. Worrying comforts us, lulls us into a very specific frame of mind in which we secretly believe that we are the center of things, with the power to create a certain kind of future. We may not be conscious of these layers in ourselves, when our spinning mind wakes us up at three in the morning; but they are there, and we can see them, if we are willing to look.

For many years, in response to ongoing trauma in my family, I would practice opening to reality by contemplating these words: “I am not in control here. In fact, I am helpless to change the situation.” A great deal of the time, I found that my mind did not want to face the truth of that reality at all. It chose to keep on worrying. But I did not. I made choices that were different than the heavily patterned imprints in my mind. Slowly, over the years, I learned to face the fear directly, instead of taking refuge in worrying. The unknowable future feels more and more bearable, sometimes even friendly, as I keep walking. And sometimes, the uncontrollable flow of life feels so beautiful, as if it’s moving inside a mystery more loving and intelligent than I will ever know.

how fortunate are you and i,
whose home
is timelessness:
we who have wandered down
from fragrant mountains of eternal now

to frolic in such mysteries as birth
and death a day (or maybe even less)
ee cummings

with love,




Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Michelle Wilsdon

    A friend lost both her son and husband
    in ways tragic and unfair
    she felt she was responsible
    if only
    She worries now about the fate of the
    house she lives in,
    feeling it deserves
    to finally have a life
    To live in what if
    seems to be
    yet where to go
    from Here.

  2. John Davidson (jd)

    A very perceptive post, Shayla, and one which resonates with my own experiences with worry. And with guilt, which is but worry directed at the past instead of the future. As I get older, neither worry nor guilt seem to figure anywhere as large as they used to. I’m not sure whether that’s due to the simple accumulation of life experiences, the fact that we live generally comfortable, uncomplicated lives, or the various techniques we’ve developed to stay in the present. Perhaps all three. Or maybe it’s all Bobby McFerrin’s fault with his ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ refrain which came out in 1988 and has been running through my mind ever since.

  3. Fred Pockrass

    Beautiful post Shayla ! I can totally relate.. to the worry state of mind and the act of letting go .. accepting life as it is …

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