The Mountain of Too Much

“The Mountain of Too Much,” Susan Ryder

How do you cope with anxiety? What practices do you turn to help alleviate stress when you are feeling overwhelmed? Some questions for you to consider as I share a few thoughts.

Leviticus 23:22 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien.

1 Thessalonians 5:11-15 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.

John 14:1 Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Meister Eckhart – “If the only prayer you ever utter is ‘Thank you!’ it will be enough.”

What a crazy week! Since Monday, we’ve had one and sometimes two news stories break just before 5pm each evening this past week. Network anchors had to rewrite their openings, sometimes on the fly, as pundits from all over were called in to share their perspectives on the latest bombshell. One night I saw a commentator ask the host of a panel to wait until he could finish reading the most recent story while on he was the air because it had just broken. As each new story came out, I wondered if I would end up needing to change my Reflection topic. Instead, all of that breaking news fortuitously added to what I planned to share with you this morning, as we consider how to deal with the “mountain of too much” in our lives. Isn’t that a great image? The mountain of too much – whether it’s stress at work or in your personal life crashing in on you, worries about your health or that of someone you love, concerns about money or the never-ending cycle of turbulent political news – whatever it is that causes you to be overwhelmed – “the mountain of too much,” a term coined by psychotherapist David Kuntz, is an excellent metaphor to describe it.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been having difficulty sleeping – I fall asleep quickly enough, but am wide-awake within an hour or two. When I first wake up, I feel that sense of dozy peace for a moment, snuggled in my comfy bed with Bob and Daisy, relieved that its not morning yet and I get to stay in bed and sleep for several more hours. Then all of a sudden, reality strikes. My dozy sense of peace and comfort recedes as my mind begins going through the grocery list of worries that are on my mind that particular day, month, or week. It might be worry about affordable and accessible healthcare for me and millions of other Americans with pre-existing conditions if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Will there be a nuclear war with North Korea? Did I leave my wallet in the shopping cart at Jewel (prompting me to get up and go find my wallet)? Is our nation is on the brink of fascism? Will my latest skin biopsy come back as cancer? These are just a few things that make up my mountain of too much and keep me awake at night.

I usually reach over and pet Daisy or hold Bob’s hand to try and calm myself down, throwing in a few heavy sighs – and if poor Bob moves in the slightest, I call out his name and ask if he is awake. If he makes the mistake of answering me, or the even bigger mistake of asking what is wrong – poor Bob, because I take that as an invitation tell him. Once he is conscious and realizes I am in a worry spiral, he gently interrupts and reassures me that it will all be okay and tries to get me to take some deep breaths and go back to sleep – sometimes that works, other nights I go into the other room and read or watch TV until my mind settles, or I pass out from exhaustion.

Whether you fuss over your mountain of too much in the “wee hours” of the night when things always seem so much darker – or during the day when you are supposed to be doing something productive – most of us know the experience of being overwhelmed and stressed to the point of breaking. We are anxious about the future, or maybe about something we did or didn’t do in the past. We worry that we will never get all of our work done, or about something going on with our kids. We fear for our nation and the rest of the world, as so many people seem gripped by such anger and xenophobia. At times the mountain feels insurmountable as we get caught up in what feels like an endless cycle of anxiety and fear mongering. Then we get crabby, or sick because we don’t take care of ourselves. Or both. We eat or drink too much – or both. We don’t get enough exercise, and suffer from weariness and malaise. Or all of the above. So what can we do? How can we not only survive, but also thrive during times of challenge? How can we conquer our mountains of too much? Here are a few ideas that occur to me … I’ll invite you to share some of yours in a few moments.

First, as any mountain climber knows, you don’t race to the summit. You carefully plot your course, check the weather, and make sure you carry enough with you to survive without overburdening yourself. You stop and rest along the way, shake pebbles out of your boot, and maybe even enjoy the view occasionally. In effect, you pace yourself. So, for instance, if the current administration is what is keeping you up at night, I hate to break it to you but we are only 121 days in. We still have 1340 days left of this administration. Even if he doesn’t complete his term, we still have to endure whoever takes his place. So we need to pace ourselves. Plot our course, check our surroundings, and make sure we are carrying enough to survive without overburdening ourselves. We need to stop and rest along the way – shake out the pebbles and maybe even enjoy the view occasionally. Pace yourself.

Another suggestion is to find a moment or more of stillness at the foot of your mountain each day. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Then another. Take time to be still at moments throughout your day and breathe in, deeply. Exhale, deeply. As you breathe deeply, in and out, close your eyes and remind yourself no one knows for sure what lies ahead. So today, in this moment, tell yourself, “I will do as much as I can, as well as I can.” Be mindful, live in this moment – not in those that lie ahead of us, but in the now. Be present. Breathe. In and out.

Count your blessings. One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies – “White Christmas” – is when Betty Haynes finds Bob Wallace as wide-awake as she is in the middle of the night, worrying. So Bing’s Bob croons to Rosemary’s Betty, “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep. And I fall asleep counting my blessings.” I know that sounds trite – but it works for me. When I’m worried and I can’t sleep – counting the many blessings in my life calms my heart and mind, and helps return me to the present moment. I am grateful for my home, my family, my friends, this spiritual community, that I have food to eat and beautiful garden enjoy and a sweet dog who adores me – all when so many have so much less. So when I begin to worry about options for health coverage for myself and others with pre-existing conditions, I remind myself of the blessing of the health insurance I have now, today. When I stress about the future of the planet, I remind myself that it’s a beautiful day, today. And while I will fight for Mother Earth and against all who seek to devastate her, I am grateful for the beauty of today. I count my blessings, I give thanks. As Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever utter is ‘Thank you!’ it will be enough.”

The passage from Leviticus offers another suggestion – that we are to share and not hoard what we have. In times of fear and anxiety we tend to close the gates and protect what’s ours, even if we have more than we need. But there are others with much less than we have, so make sure we share our blessings with them. That might mean dropping off groceries at a food bank, or volunteering to help tend the community gardens hosted by the West Bloomington Revitalization Project. Donate time or money to a favorite charity stand up for immigrants and refugees, be allies for those who are most afraid. In other words, when we reap the harvest of our lives – make sure we leave some for those who need it the most. Helping others certainly contributes to our well being, as well as theirs.

We can also work at building each other up instead of tearing each other down, as 1 Thessalonians reminds us. Instead of responding with snarky comments or posts on social media and adding to the already overly negative narrative, try being positive in your interactions – both on and offline. Uplift others, be encouraging – look for the good in the world. Seek out news stories that inspire instead of incite – and be inspiring instead of inciting. Do not replay evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another. Be the good you want to see in the world.

These are just a few ideas that occur to me to help with the mountains of too much we all experience from time to time, so that we can climb those mountains with a little more confidence, feeling a little less weary. What ideas do you have to add? How do you cope with anxiety? What practices do you turn to help alleviate stress when you are feeling overwhelmed?


If Love Be There by Robert T. Weston

This day,
Setting aside all that divides me from others;
This day,
Remembering that the world is beautiful
To him or her who is willing that it be so
And that into the open, eager heart
The beauty enters in
If love be there;
This day
I will make a part of the song of life
There may be grief, but if there be love it will be overcome.
There may be pain, but it can be borne with dignity and courage;
There may be difficulty, but it can be turned to strength.
Remembering that the word is beautiful
If I will let it be so for others who I meet,
This day
I will make a part of the song of life.