The great Indian Buddhist Master Shantideva is famous for his practical advice on dealing patiently with problems:

If something can be remedied
Why be unhappy about it?
And if there is no remedy for it,
There is still no point in being unhappy.

Here is a flow chart to illustrate this seemingly unarguable point (sorry, I don’t know who drew the original or I would credit them:)

don't worry be happy 1How can we do this in a simple way? By not immediately defaulting to: ‘Oh noooo’, with a mind of aversion, rejection, and worry, but getting in the habit of bringing it on: ‘Oh yessss’, and only then thinking: “Now what can I do about this?” If there is something I can do about it, why worry? And if there is nothing I can do about it, why worry? Instead, I can and will find another way to relate to this situation.

I confess that I used to have this following question, which I just shared on Facebook to receive what I think is a really good answer from the scientist Jon Dicks:

Luna: One quick question though, what do you do in the moments before deciding whether or not there is something we can do about it?!
Shirley Austin: Panic 🙂
Luna Kadampa: haha!! that’s what i thought.
Jon Dicks: @Luna, you do not need to panic in the moments before also, because it will be either one possibility or the other, so why worry. Like Schrodinger’s cat in its box there are only two possible states, dead or alive, so open the lid and find out which it is. Don’t get excited also in anticipation 🙂
Jon Dicks: (poor cat though).

Since I read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as a teenager, I have found myself muttering “DON’T PANIC” if things seem to be going disastrously wrong, and then taking it from there. (The novel explains that “DON’T PANIC” was written in large, friendly letters on the cover partly as the device “looked insanely complicated” to operate and partly to keep intergalactic travelers from panicking.)

If we are attached to things going our way the whole time, we will experience aversion or impatience when things don’t go our way, and this is worry – a lack of acceptance of what is. Patient acceptance is therefore one major opponent to worry.

When we decide to stop worrying, we are in effect starting to practice patient acceptance. Shantideva suggests starting small to begin with, e.g. with insect bites (and it is all relative but buying a piano might also fall into that category!) So if you are a chronic worrier about anything that comes your way, you have plenty of opportunity to practice being laid back instead. (As my brother graphically put it: ‘You need to shovel shit all the time to grow roses.”)

Every time we succeed in not worrying by deliberately thinking differently about the situation, our habit of not worrying increases, and our mind becomes fresher, more confident and happier. Roseanne Brancatelli says: “The excitement in life is finding solutions for our problems. If there is no solution, there is acceptance — the solution for what can’t be resolved.” With this attitude, we make progress, whether you want to call it spiritual or not.

This is the third article in an occasional series on how to worry less using Buddhist techniques. The first two are Don’t worry, be happy and How to stop worrying about anything, everything and nothing. (All of the anti-worry articles can now be found here.)

It’s your turn. Has Shantideva’s advice worked for you? Please share your experience in the comments box below.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

15 thoughts on “DON’T PANIC”

  1. This is all so wonderful for me as a new receiver of Kadampa Life. I LOVE EVERY PART OF IT. Being a prolific fear, panic artist, worrier, pain in the neck for so long and hating every second of it, and now learning how to change is a huge life changer for me and I am so very grateful for every bit I receive. I love the idea of either, ‘bring it on’ or ‘accept or change’. It seems to stop the brain going into freeze state if you know what I mean. Impermanence also gives me a sense of “Oh, yes, exactly”. I am facing surgery in just a few days and my panic state has been awful but just at the moment I am feeling good, this is just what the doctor ordered. So, more please. Fae.

  2. Thank you for another lovely post Luna. You weave Dharma into everyday experience so wonderfully. ‘The excitement in life is finding solutions for our problems.’ Yes – I like this alot.

  3. This is one of my favorite topics, as I have progressed from being a chronic worrier to being a somewhat sporadic worrier. It does get easier the more I practice these techniques. When I need a quick response to separate my mind from worry, I will often use a mantra which helps me to relax at that moment of worry, and let go of thinking about it.
    I am noticing how the mind of worry can now come in more subtler forms, and so it takes vigilance on my part to recognize when that happens and to try to be mindful at those moments.
    Practice, practice, practice.

  4. I love the image of Shantideva floating above the cushion. can you tell me where I can get this larger or print it out?

  5. It depends how much pressure one is under, and how used to unresolved problems one is, as to how much we can follow Shantideva’s advice. Personally I find that when stuff builds up too mmuch, it triggers my innate sense of self-grasping and I go into a kind of paralysis, where my mind won’t listen to me any more, coming back again and again to my object of worry. I find that refuge practice is very useful in this state, although making my mind do that can be pretty difficult! In fact I can usually solve my problems, at least temporarily, no matter how much I am worried. It may take a couple of weeks, but impermanence moves things on. Also, ‘the next morning’ is always better I find – there’s a lot to be said for Sleep.

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