Here is an ironclad prescription for personal misery: Attempt to keep everything, every person, every detail, and every moving part of your life, family, job, health, or schedule in precise working order as you would have it, without modification. Demand total compliance without flexibility, adjustment, or concession and you can be assured of never having a minute of peace for the rest of your life.
Understandably, it is good to have a place for everything and everything in its place. But things don’t stay in place.
In the New Testament both Jesus and the Apostle Paul forbid Christians from worrying or being anxious. Neither Paul nor Jesus take a utopian view of worry, as in “don’t ever worry about anything under any conditions.” The focus is actually on self-obsession. It is a fidgeting anxiety created within us when things aren’t going our way, when things feel out of place, and we can’t control the circumstances around us.
This is a self-manufactured anxiety, created by our efforts to fix things, manage people, and create situations that match our unyielding standards. This is a kind of worry produced by overreaching. This is why every great spiritual tradition speaks of letting go, denying self, surrendering, and detaching. For when we outdo and outwit our capabilities, we are left with uneasiness, not contentment, the very opposite of what we seek.
This is vividly illustrated with a description I recently heard, a description new to me, but one I’m going to sear into my memory banks and no doubt pass on regularly. It’s originally from Jean McLendon, a long-time therapist in North Carolina, but a phrase now used in 12-step work, organizational management, and family counseling. I’d like to apply it to all facets of life – especially spirituality. The phrase is: “Stay inside your own hula-hoop.”