Japan Today



Don't let it bug you - how not to worry

By Michael Hoffman

(Second of two parts)

Worry is nothing to worry about, really. You can use your brain to train your brain, writes neurologist Toshinori Kato in President magazine (March 1) – if not not to worry at all, at least to worry productively, generating solutions and action plans instead of the all-too-familiar self-gnawing paralysis of sterile impotent worry. Kato claims remarkable results for his Kato Platina Clinic – “the only clinic in the world,” he writes on its website – “that provides medical care that supports each individual’s brain growth based on neuroscience evidence obtained using brain MRI.”

Is life really as overwhelming as it sometimes seems? Untamed and undisciplined, the brain may well see it so, taking every challenge for an attack, every clash for war. The brain’s capacity to feel is more than we can bear, sometimes. So, for that matter, is its capacity to think.

The workplace especially, says President is a hotbed of needless worry. A snappish remark from the boss sparks panic, a colleague’s promotion over you sows resentment, a mistaken judgment on your part, a sales target not met, a potential sale lost to a competitor, may yield agonies of self-doubt and fear: Will I be fired? Do I deserve to be? If not fired demoted? And so on and so on. Worry never sleeps.

And maybe it’s not needless after all. It’s nothing less than your livelihood at stake, and you’ve a family to support, children to educate, a home loan to pay off. Thus burdened, a person might well worry.

The solutions Kato puts forward in President leave the reader underwhelmed. Your assigned task is too much for you? Talk to the boss and appeal for understanding. Consult a colleague with pertinent knowledge. Yes, of course. More helpfully: write down your feelings, put your emotions into words – that, says Kato, deflects brain energy from the right, emotional side of the brain, with its imagistic, impulsive, rhythmic and musical inclinations, to the left, seat of reason, facts, logic, calculation and finally, hopefully, concrete measures and practical action.

President’s extended feature assembles numerous individuals, each examining worry from a unique perspective, all worthy of mention here were space not limited – which it is, however, and so we narrow the focus to three: a Zen priest, a Christian pastor and a veteran police officer whose daily life, unfolding in the midst of grave danger and great evil, would be unlivable without impregnable cerebral defenses.

Taigu Genshu was born in a temple into a family of priests. He held his first book of sutras in his little hands at age three, assisted at his first Buddhist funeral at five. No sooner was he grown than he fled, a rebel against “being a temple kid” and the priestly future he’d been groomed for.

He studied abroad and became interested in business and health care. Merging the two interests and borrowing, here and there, the astonishing sum of 100 million yen, he founded various health care establishments – which, alas, proved unprofitable. “People I wanted with me left; those I didn’t want stayed,” he writes bleakly. “Desperate, I fled back to Buddhism” – to the family temple in Aichi Prefecture and the priesthood.

All he tells us of how he dealt with the crushing debt is that he “left the business to others.” As a priest he opened on Youtube a sort of Buddhist counseling platform for the worried and the troubled. His clientele, he says, now numbers 50,000.

Ego is the pitfall, Buddhism teaches. Meditation is Zen’s, and Taigu’s, answer to it.

The ego says, “I am the center of the universe.” Zen says, “am nothing, am not, there is no ego, it’s illusory, it doesn’t exist. Meditation seems a different form of Kato’s brain training. Ego tamed, am set free. (But there is no I. True – but language, English more than Japanese, requires it. There’s no expressing egolessness in intelligible language, which is why Zen is so often unintelligible.)

It doesn’t matter. Taigu’s point is: whatever the crisis, whether domestic discord or setback at work or any of the natural, economic or geopolitical catastrophes raining down on humanity in such numbing profusion of late, we can transcend it – if we can transcend ourselves.

Domestic discord is Christian clergyman Kazuya Numata’s special concern. He sees much of it among his suburban Tokyo parishioners. Domestic violence is a rising scourge nationwide, as are “poison parents” blighting their children’s lives – the helplessness of small children is terrifying at times, and whether the parents are poisonous out of ignorance, distraction or naked cruelty is a secondary issue. Primary is, what to do about it?

Communicate. What meditation is to Taigu, communication is to Numata.

The isolation of the modern family alarms Numata. Old community ties long dissolved, each family stews alone in its own juice. Who to confide in, when the home that should be a shelter becomes the storm? What gives family conflict that special edge it has, says Numata, “is precisely, it seems to me, that family problems are so difficult to talk about to outsiders.

“We need,” he says, “to learn to talk to one another.” “Relearn,” he might have said, for the many blessings of modern privacy – modern freedom ranking high among them – impose isolation as a kind of tax. Come to church, says Numata. Come, he says, seeking comfort without interference or judgment. Seek, he seems to be saying, and ye shall find.

The doctor in his clinic, the priest in his temple, the pastor in church, the cop on the street. The streets the police officer walks are fraught with a peril unknown elsewhere. Yukimasa Mori, 27-year veteran of the Chiba prefectural police force, lives at such a pitch of anxiety that the word “worry” is hardly adequate. “You need iron in the soul,” he writes in President. Maybe we all do, to some extent though not likely to his. What can we learn from him? Perspective, if nothing else. Maybe our own worries, weighed in the balance, are less serious than we thought.

His daily rounds put him face to face with violence, murder, fraud, tragedy – with humans at their worst and life at its direst. He has negotiated the release of hostages, led raids into gang headquarters, interviewed crime victims still in shock, families still in mourning. He recalls an inquest he conducted on the body of an elementary school girl. “She was just my daughter’s age,” he writes – “but if I give way to tears I can’t do my job.”

This is how he deals with the tensest moments: “I tell myself, ‘This is a movie, I’m an actor in a movie, this isn’t real, it’s a movie.’” In our far less dramatic but all the same not untraumatic lives, maybe it’s something we can all tell ourselves sometimes.

© Japan Today

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As social animals, the human group benefitted from containing members with various disparate traits. While having a majority of its members content to chow down on what was in front of them, the group benefitted by having a few who worried about what to do once the banquet before them was consumed. So if you're a worrier, note that it's likely genetic and take steps to ensure it does not negatively impact your life, but know that it is for a purpose.

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“I tell myself, ‘This is a movie, I’m an actor in a movie, this isn’t real, it’s a movie.’” In our far less dramatic but all the same not untraumatic lives, maybe it’s something we can all tell ourselves sometimes.

This is depersonalisation-derealisation and is well on the way to mental illness and not to be recommended. It will end up being your personal standpoint for your whole life. I suggest he needs some kind of professional advice. Being able to stand back, as meditation may assist with, is one thing but the anguish has to be processed much better than through an avoidant and dysfunctional (though also rather instinctual) depersonalisation-derealisation response.

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Communicate. What meditation is to Taigu, communication is to Numata.

Not a particularly insightful article. I find writing out any worries helps to quell anguish...

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I've been training my brain to worry. I just now find out that it's the wrong way to think. Fortunately, I'm too old to bother with just about everything, so my worries are dying off as fast as I am.

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