The Difference Between A Wish And A Worry

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The difference between a wish and a worry is the difference between conscious living and not. Whereas worries arrive unbidden on an endless conveyor belt, we have to want to wish. ‘I want to stop hunching my shoulders.’ Or, ‘I want to pay attention to this moment.’ Here, language becomes problematic because we may not “want” to do this in the same way we want to drink a Dark n’ Stormy or take a nap, for instance. Our intention to unravel our posture or consider the welfare of others is not without effort. It’s something that stretches our heart or pushes back against habits of living in our head.

When time for meditation, self-care, or creative expression is sparse, intention is the most powerful thing we can cultivate. As an example, during lockdown, when I was homeschooling my kids and without much time for meditation, writing, or lie downs, I tried to use intention to keep me from shriveling into a cocoon of grumpiness and self-pity. When struggling through homework with my daughter, and feeling irritated and anxious, I would try to refine my motivation, “How do I really want to teach her?”

While moving through the house, I would ask to not tighten against the stress I was feeling.

Without a conscious intention, by default our intention is just to finish, or get through whatever we’re dealing with. I don’t want to give a false impression of myself; I spun out plenty of times and often counted down the hours until I put my kids to bed. The point is not whether we are perfect — the point is that we actually can squeeze a bigger heart or wider view even when we’re busy or out of our comfort zone. And we have to because permanent comfort can’t be found.

Role models like Reverend William Barber , the Dalai Lama, and Pema Chodron, have braided the success and well-being of others into their own life goals. It’s been said that the Buddha was who he was because of the size of his motivation. He wanted to wake up. Like a rocket, he overcame the gravity of his habits and his thoughts by consistent effort. It’s the small, consistent efforts that help us change. I must have thought, “I wish to allow my neck to be free, to widen my shoulders,” ten thousand times. And I still feel the satisfying trickle of undoing when I think it!

Since many of us are homebound, I’m a fan of sticky notes as reminders to rouse your intention:

  • In your kitchen as you prepare food or clean dishes (where it would be easy for resentment to lurk…) — “May I and my family be happy and healthy.” Or, simply, “Do one thing at a time.”
  • Next to your computer — “May I not shrink myself.” Or, “Breathe.”

These are just examples; the important part is to think of an activity in which you feel particularly mindless and contemplate what kind of intention you’d like to have. How could this practice — getting dressed, doing dishes, etc. — be folded into your drive to not take living for granted?

If we can cultivate a personal practice of wishing — whether it’s for our body or for social change (or both) — we are helping ourselves be more present and changing our potential impact from a million scattered and discursive directions to a more focused impact.

Join us on Mondays (Tonight!) at 8 PM for Focus & Relax to see examples of raising your intention. The more we get stripped of our free time, and as we experience the current political dysfunction and financial insecurity, intention is one of the most powerful things we have left.

Originally published at on July 27, 2020.

Meditation + Alexander Technique teacher. Author of “Don’t Get Better,” forthcoming guide to sanity, humor, and wisdom during illness.

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