Listening to The Unknown

The worry alarm rings

Cecilia is accustomed to living a fast-paced life. Passionate about her 40-year career in sales, it seems impossible for Cecilia to imagine a different lifestyle. A single and successful woman, Cecilia is content and comfortable in her predictable and familiar routines. Work hardships come and go. Cecilia somehow rallies through them, confident that her expertise and track record speak for themselves. Yet the recent company downsize has set off a new alarm which is starting to create worry.

The worry alarm sounds off as soon as she wakes up. The morning greeting starts like this: “What if I lose my job? What if I have to change careers? What is my purpose?” Cecilia attempts to ignore the alarm and arranges a busy schedule to distract herself. At night she occupies herself by watching TV and reading mindless Facebook posts.

The quieter you become the more you are able to hear. – Rumi

Worry cannot be ignored

When driving to sales calls, she notices her stomach feels tense and tied up in knots. Cecilia shrugs off the sensation in hopes it will disappear by the end of the day. Unfortunately, the stomach pain increases and she can no longer ignore it. Cecilia calls her sales partner Dale to explain that she has to take the afternoon off and head to the urgent care for treatment. The abdominal X-ray images show a bowel obstruction which requires immediate attention.

In the hospital Cecilia’s worry alarm sounds off even louder. Accustomed to being surrounded by clients and co-workers, she can’t bear the idea of working less and being ill and alone. The combination of uncertainty at work and a health scare has unexpectedly altered her future. Instead of resting, she spends her time contemplating her current state: “Is this what aging means? Do I need to set new work/life priorities? What is my long-term plan for health care? How can I stop worrying and start living?”

What’s next?

While in the hospital, Cecilia’s co-worker Dale gifts her with Estelle Frankel’s book, The Wisdom of Not Knowing. Dale says the book helped him through the company downsizes. Cecilia rifles through the book and a passage catches her attention:

“I’m not certain exactly how or when it happened, but as I got older, I became more fearful of the unknown,” Frankel writes. “I learned to worry about all the unknown things that I could not control and that, for the most part, rarely came to pass. Instead of the unknown being my best friend, it has become a foe to be outsmarted.

A foe indeed! Inspired by Frankel’s wise words, Cecilia schedules an appointment with a wellness coach. She is initially under the impression that coaching will take away all her worries. She imagines it will be a quick turnaround back into her former life of predictability.

Surprised by her Coach’s perspective, Cecilia learns that her worries represent a wake up call to grow and deepen her understanding of life. Coach outlines ways her inner self has been trying to contact and connect with her. It is becoming apparent to Cecilia that she has been so busy with ordinary living she hasn’t considered extraordinary alternatives.

The power of stillness

Cecilia spends 10 minutes each day without devices, books or TV. At the end of the quiet period she records her most frequent thoughts and what is happening in her body. Cecilia didn’t realize that silence could be so loud! So far she has collected some interesting information.

At first the thoughts were negative and unhealthy. Her stomach still aches but not because of pain. The written reflections did not change for a few weeks. What is the point of this exercise, Cecilia murmurs to herself. I’m not convinced this is useful.

Somehow sensing Cecilia’s distress, Dale texts her the following quote from Frankel’s book:

“Worry simply burns precious inner fuel we would be better off saving in order to deal with whatever outcome we must eventually face.”

Cecilia is shocked by the text and wonders how Dale picked up on her angst. Over and over, she reads these powerful words and allows them to settle into her mind. She sees how the worry won’t make things better. Cecilia decides to focus on letting go of worry to better preserve her anxiety fuel for a more positive investment of time and energy.

Instead of recording negative comments on the page before her, Cecilia jots down two questions:

  • How can I turn negative thoughts into thoughts that strengthen me?
  • Is my stomach trying to tell me something?

She returns back into the silence and waits for answers. A quiet voice, one that she hasn’t heard in a long time, speaks up. “Cecilia you are more than just your job. You are a talented person who values relationships, nature, and giving back to the community. Instead of obsessing about whether or not you will have a job in six months, get outside for fresh air. Reach out to your good friend Monica and walk in a new park.

“Your stomach wants you to trust its signals so you can learn to open your heart and mind to possibilities and healing. You have all the resources you need here to live your best life. Are you ready to let go of your worry in exchange for peace, love and joy?”

Wow! Cecilia had no idea how much wisdom was inside her mind and body. After this enlightening experience she uses her time, resources and efforts to create a more fulfilling life. Cecilia no longer fears quiet time and being alone. She looks forward to it and has increased it to 20 minutes a day.

Besides writing, Cecilia’s quiet time includes drawing, generating ideas and gratitude lists. The walks in the park, with or without a friend, have revitalized her love of nature. She explores the possibility of volunteering with kids and teaching them better appreciation of the outdoors.

Regarding work, Cecilia concludes that every employee is actually quite disposable. This idea doesn’t scare her anymore. Instead she focuses on how she makes a difference. In the meantime Cecilia is developing a backup plan so she doesn’t feel limited by her job. The plan includes engaging her imagination so she can stay open to all possibilities.

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