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May You Have Many Worries

“I vow to let go of all worries and anxiety in order to be light and free.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

My mother was what you might call a “professional worrier.” She worried with skill, power, and acumen.

She could incisively hone in on the most seemingly benign situation and find within it some kernel of trouble to worry about. Money. Health. Household. Children. Travel. Work. You name it.  She worried about it. A lot.

That is until my father was diagnosed with cancer.

When my father became ill, my mother changed radically—and apparently overnight. Faced with the potential of the greatest loss of her life, she found that she was suddenly free of the many worries that had plagued her for all those many years.

In the wake of the most terrible news imaginable, the many troubles that had been burdening her suddenly fell away like a heavy winter coat on an unexpectedly warm day.

So, strangely and without warning, in the midst of a terrifying life-threatening crisis, my mother became a more light-hearted person.

Things that had bothered her before my father’s illness were dismissed with a smile and a wave of her hand.  If you came to her with a knit brow and a bee in your bonnet, she would simply say, “If no one is dying, then it’s not a problem.”

There is an old Yiddish blessing that ironically wishes, “May you have many worries.”

At first glance, it seems more like a curse than a blessing. Why would you wish someone you care about many worries?

The answer lies in the heart of my mother’s experience: If we have many troubles swirling about us—and we choose to entertain those worries—that means that we do not have a single, overriding worry to consume us.

And the absence of that single, oppressive worry is a blessing in itself.

There is a great source of empowerment in this understanding: If large troubles displace small worries and with a single powerful stroke, suddenly wiping our slate of worries clean, then we ourselves can choose to wipe that slate clean at any moment.

This little bit of folksy wisdom is, in fact, a very deep instruction:

Don’t wait for a big trouble to come along and make you realize that your small troubles don’t matter.

Novelist and essayist Anne Lamott tells the story of a time she was out shopping for clothing with a friend who was terminally ill:

She was in a wheelchair, wearing a wig to cover her baldness, weighing almost no pounds, but very serene, very alive. We were at Macy’s. I was modeling a short dress for her that I thought my boyfriend would like.

But then I asked whether it made me look big in the hips, and Pammy said, as clear and kind as a woman can be, “Annie? You really don’t have that kind of time.” I just got it. I got it deep in my being . . . You don’t have that kind of time.

And she is right.  We don’t have that kind of time. We live under the illusion that we have plenty of time to worry.

We have the feeling that we have hours and days and weeks and months and years to concern ourselves about whether our hips look big or the house is drafty or the bills are piling up or there is dust under the furniture or the car needs vacuuming or the kitchen is outdated.  But we don’t.

My mother realized that those kinds of worries added up to nothing on the day my father became ill.

She found that she no longer had time to worry about meeting agendas and traffic tie-ups and household clutter and gas prices and rainy days and rusted gutters—all the things that consume so much of our time and energy.

She found she only had time to love the man she had committed her life to over three decades before. And that is just what she did.

We don’t have to wait for a crisis to realize that we only have time to love what is real. We only have time to care for what is right in front of us. To vow to let go our worries is a vow to love what’s most sacred.

And once we realize this, we’ll be free.

Photo by Lazy_Boi

Avatar of Lauren Rosenfeld

About Lauren Rosenfeld

Lauren Rosenfeld, M.A., M.Ed., is the Co-Author of Your To Be List: Turn Those Dreaded To-Do's into Meaningful Moments. She is a mother of four who helps parents bring mindfulness, joy, and relaxation into their parenting practice, and also offers E-Courses on Mindful Living through YourToBeList.com.

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  • http://realsimplepeople.com/ John Sherry

    How highly individual and masterly this post is Lauren. I know this story oh too well. When my father died suddenly from cancer and my mother then developed the same I went the other way – I piled fear on top of worry which became anxiety and a hole opened up in my life that I fell into. If I only could have read this post back then the dark night of the soul may have only been a passing cloud. Rest assured there will be many others whose lives are darkening as we speak and hopefully they will be steered to find your words that can free and liberate them of worries so they can re-invest in their own best from now on. A heart warming inspiring post, bless you.

  • Matt

    beautiful!

  • Jennifer

    That is so true. The women in my family are notorious for being worriers… I’ve tried hard to break that, some days are better than others. Then I think that if I died tomorrow, would I want my days to be filled with distracting worry or filled with awareness and joy?

  • Anonymous

    So true. I learned this to some extent recently because of a different kind of loss. I’ve been letting go of little things that used to bug me sometimes. There are more important things to worry about.

  • Brad

    I loved this post. Thank you.

  • http://inspiredtype.wordpress.com Sue Alexander

    The trick is keeping that perspective and not letting the multitude of small worries creep back in. Thank you for the reminder :~)

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  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    Thank you Matt, I truly appreciate it.

  • Brooke

    Wow, that touched me so deeply. Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    James, as I know you’ve learned in the wake of your loss, letting go of worry is a spiritual practice that is truly liberating. And the more we hear to let go of small worries, the more adept we will be in releasing our larger worries. Wishing you great peace, Lauren.

  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    Jennifer, as I mentioned in the blog, my mother was a worrier. What I didn’t mention was that she came from a long line of worriers. I really feel that I’ve had to unlearn worrying as a natural response. I know that there are choices. There are many responses to any situation and worry is just one of them. And knowing that I have other choices helps to release the worry as well. Many blessings. Lauren

  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    Thank you kindly, Brad.

    Lauren

  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    Sue, you are right. It is an ongoing practice and one which we must practice with diligence and insight if we are truly to be free. Blessings, Lauren

  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    John, my heart is with you. What I didn’t mention in the story is that my mother eventually died of cancer as well. So I know how hard it is — and how in the wake of grief and the exhaustion that come with it, worry can creep in and consume us.You sound to me like a brave and inspired person. May your heart continue to heal. I am glad that my blog touched you. Blessings to you, Lauren

  • Tee

    This is the most touching and beautifully written article that I have read in a very long time. I, too, learned how to worry from my mother. Thankfully, I did not pass that tradition on to my daughter. But as turmoil and tradgedy crept their way into my later life, I fell back into the habit of fear. I had to train my mind all over again from scratch. You have given me a tremendous gift today, Lauren. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  • http://twitter.com/Psuedo Marc Daniels

    That was one of the rare AMAZING blogs Ive just happened to come across. Needed to read that, Thank You.

    Marc

  • Kim

    This touched me so profoundly. THANK you! May I ask which book that was from with Ms. Lamott?

    Thanks again!

  • http://twitter.com/fredtracy Fred Tracy

    Lauren, I really appreciate this post. I can relate a lot to what you’re saying. Eckhart Tolle talks about how most people who seek out spirituality are often the very ones who have endured so much pain in their lives. At a certain point, you learn to say “Enough!” and start focusing on the more important things in life.

  • Arlene Appelrouth

    If you have a serious health problem, you have one worry. If health is not an issue, you have many problems.

  • http://twitter.com/smiling_heart Jen Saunders

    Lauren,

    Thank you so much for writing this. Too often we forget to realise the awesomeness of what is right in front of us, too distracted by all the little things. I will especially remember the wise words of your mother, “If no one is dying, then it’s not a problem.” Such a beautiful and simple truth!

  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    Thank you, Brooke!

  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    I am just happy to be able to pass along the experience, Tee. I know that worry and fear are an experience that we humans share. But so is compassion. For ourselves and for others. Thank you for your lovely comment. Wishing you a joyous day to you and your daughter.

  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    Thank you for your appreciation, Kim. The quote is from “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith”.

  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    This is very true, Arlene. And even when we have serious problems, there is still so much to be grateful for. Blessings, Lauren

  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    My mother was a wise woman. She is also gone now, transitioned from this world. But I carry her in my heart always. I am glad her wisdom has touched you as well. Wishing you peace! Lauren

  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    Thank you Marc. Wonderful how serendipity often offers us precisely what we need. May your day be blessed with many serendipitous moments. Lauren

  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    Hi Fred. I have found that even in our painful moments, there is so much to be grateful for — especially our capacity to give and receive compassion. I have a piece of calligraphy on my wall from Thich Nhat Hanh that says: “No Mud. No lotuses.” This is a simple and deep truth of life I think. Many blessings, Lauren

  • http://www.twitter.com/heartonsleevexx heartonsleeveweakatknees

    I can relate with this concept & I’m glad to say – before anything quite so devastating has happened to me. My mother isn’t very well, but she’s OK. This seemed to changed my mindset with her & a lot of things in life now, & I try to remember even when I get stressed out exactly what your mother said – if nobody’s died it’s not a big problem.

  • http://twitter.com/YourToBeList Lauren Rosenfeld

    It’s such a good perspective to have. I think of worry as waves that begin under the surface of our emotional life. If we can see the wave forming before it crests and crashes into us — if we can get clarity and perspective before we are overwhelmed by the power of fear and worry — then we save ourselves so much heartache. WIshing you and your mother well. L.

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  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose AlannahRose

    Wow, this is such a touching piece. I literally burst into tears at the end of it–very inspiring. I was forced to learn this lesson last year but this is such a kind reminder. I’m going to print it out for my fridge. Thank you so much for such an amazing and personal piece. Much appreciated & taken to heart. <3

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  • http://twitter.com/sriniovasan srinivasan sankar

    Extremely awakening post. I just felt like a close friend slapping on my face to make me understand this. I have been worrying for all the 22 years of my life. But i think it has taken only a few minutes and this short post to change me. Quite literally!

    I guess, ‘Everything happens for a reason and at a specified time’Thank you very much Lauren, i will never forget this post and you. My most sincere gratitudes to you.Thank you very much. CheersSrini

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  • elen

    I am so sorry about your loss, life is short for everyone. I wanted to share my situation too because seems backwards from yours…my father died some years ago from cancer and now years later I noticed my mother to worry and complain so much…not sure if is because of that or because she was like that and now that I just moved in with her I notice or what but your story is sad just like mine…. life is short so short….