Have you noticed how something always seems to be wrong no matter how right things appear initially? There is an apparently endless supply of issues to fret over. After we resolve our pressing life and death issues, you’d think we could relax and appreciate that victory. Alas, no sooner is one problem solved than we find another issue to fuss over.
This reveals we have what I’d call a ‘worry gene’, with some folks inheriting an extra helping and some with a more meager serving. Like the gene for body height, some are taller than others, but everyone has height. Simply put, we are all going to worry until our dying day no matter what solutions we embrace to alter that fact (1).
This may sound fatalistic, but there is hope. It begins with recognizing that problems and questions are the constant reality. Chapter 16 advises us, Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial, Impartial therefore whole, whole therefore natural. This means accepting the fact that our innovative solutions and answers will constantly be short-lived. The promise of permanency is merely another of Nature’s hoodwinks. Realizing this helps liberate emotion from expecting to find any permanent or perfect solution to anything. With that, you can focus on the one constant problem you may actually have some control over. Buddha’s Four Noble Truths points the way, with the last truth being the only solution that rests in your hands… or rather in your head.
The Fourth Noble Truth is the Middle Path that leads to the cessation of suffering. There is salvation for him whose self disappears before truth, whose will is bent on what he ought to do, whose sole desire is the performance of his duty. He who is wise will enter this path and make an end to suffering.
Eight steps on the Middle Path are: 1. Right Comprehension, 2. Right Resolution, 3. Right Speech, 4. Right Action, 5. Right Living, 6. Right Effort, 7. Right Thought, 8. Right State of Peaceful Mind.
Notice that at least half of these steps refer to the mind. Of those, Right Thought is the one most directly connected to human awareness. Without awareness, the mind as we know it doesn’t exist. Awareness (i.e., alert, attentive, conscientious, observant, watchful) helps optimize many aspects of life for all sentient animals. However, the human mind can be easily distracted by trivial thoughts, ideals, and expectations. This makes it less capable of noticing what is optimal or of perceiving ‘the eternal now’. Such presence of mind for humans is the foundation upon which all Buddha’s “Rights” rest. Noticing circumstances is the foundation upon which survival rests for all animals, including us. Such watchfulness is the one constant problem you may actually have some power over. As Christ said, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.” (2)
(1) One important feature of the worry gene is that it drives us to worry about something no matter what. It is the perpetual version of Murphy’s Law. When we lack truly mountainous issues of survival to worry about, we make worrisome mountains out of any molehill in sight. The worry monster must be fed. This easily leads to neurotic stressful worry. Simply put, emotion is blindly irrational and readily stimulates the body and mind to respond as if being chased by lions.
The beauty of focusing on one constant problem is that no matter how much you toil you’ll always have room for improvement. That gives the worry gene something to sanely and constantly sink its teeth into.
(2) I consider the “pray” that Christ spoke about as being synonymous to, and a simple summary of, the four: Right Thought, Right State of Peaceful Mind, Right Comprehension and Right Resolution.