Over the past few days, there have been a few instances where I've fallen into my mind's favorite past-time hobby: overthinking. When faced with an issue, I have always had a tendency of letting the thoughts and feelings circle my mind, and eventually, if I'm not careful, build up into something bigger than the actual issue.
An example of this is the other day, a friend of mine did something that didn't involve me at all, and it accidentally opened a wound of mine. Rather than simply allowing the friend to do what they pleased and release that control, those expectations, I spent about two days talking out my feelings, letting them run wild and expand, and I found myself sinking into a little funk I created for myself. But, I believe I discovered a quick and simple trick to snapping out of overthinking and allowing things to be as they are because after practicing it, the clutter went away.
A few actions we can take when presented with overthinking are taking necessary action, such as letting go and accepting things as they are, or reframing our mindset to instead focus on the positives of our life. We can catch ourselves in the downward spiral and STOP, readjusting our focus to the moment and the things going right in our lives. If it's a decision we are overthinking, we can sit down with ourselves and calmly decide on an answer.
However, I learned a new practice when I recently read the book Wabi-Sabi: Timeless wisdom for a stress-free life by Agneta Nyholm Winqvist, and it contained a story that I've held on tightly and return to often.
I'll be honest--I left the book at my parent's house and don't have it with me, and I cannot find this folk tale anywhere online. I'm not sure where it's from in ancient history, but all I know is it was touched on in the book and is part of Zen Buddhism. I remember the story like the back of my hand. It has helped me in many situations where overthinking has tried pushing its way into my mind and has even encouraged me to take the unnecessary weight off my shoulders. I have learned to better release control by simply returning to this story, and through it, remembering nothing is ever perfect.
The story goes like this...
A man walks up to Buddha and asks Buddha to take away all of his problems. The man lists 48 problems in total and hands them over to Buddha to fix them so that he can finally have a perfect and content life.
Buddha takes away the problems, then replaces them with 48 more. So, the man still has 48 problems.
When the man asks Buddha why he has done this, Buddha replies, "No matter where you are in life, you will always have 48 problems. Nothing is ever perfect. It's up to us if we'd like to be fully content with what we have."
I remember reading this story and not thinking too much about it until I was faced with stress and overthinking regarding a problem at hand. I remember thinking to myself, "This is just one of my 48 problems." (*cue Ariana Grande's 99 problems*)
Immediately, the stress around the problem seemed to fade. I understood then that regardless of how perfect our lives are, there will always be issues at hand that will try to pry our attention toward them. We often sit and focus on all that is going wrong, falling down into a sour mood, digging a deep hole for ourselves, rather than take time to understand that we will always have problems, and we can either get through them, let them go, or let them linger.
I realized all of this when I thought harder about the action of my friend. I was in a great mood prior, enjoying time with my roommates, feeling loved in my relationship, and being creative and productive in many areas of my life. Then, one minor problem that barely involved me appeared, and my mood shifted instantly. Now, I can work to remind myself that not all problems require attention, as well as the fact that we can't control others. All we can control is our own reaction.
When faced with an issue, no matter how large or seemingly insignificant, we should value and accept how we're feeling, but avoid swimming in the emotions for too long. We can work to find a solution, but otherwise understand that, like every emotion and every issue, it will pass in time.
Why overthink, and try to control every small detail of our lives, when issues will continue to arise? Like the story shares: we will always have 48 problems, no matter where we are in life. Look at the problem as just one of the 48 problems that are separate from you, and learn to accept them, appreciate them, even.
And while this may be a rather harsh outlook on life, and I do prefer a more optimistic approach, by understanding that nothing is perfect, we can take some pressure off ourselves and continue with more ease, in my opinion. Nothing is perfect, and that's okay.
You are exactly where you are supposed to be, with your 48 problems and all.