07/31/2014 09:17 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Worried About Worrying? How to Silence That Internal Chatter

2014-07-29-Womanworryingsmaller.jpgDuring a recent TV interview I was asked, "How do you pray?"

"Desire is prayer," I found myself quoting from a book that has largely informed my spiritual practice, " . . . and no loss can occur from trusting God with our desires, that they may be moulded and exalted before they take form in words and in deeds."

The quote comes from a chapter all about prayer and even though I've read it many times, I still return to dig deeper into what it means to pray and how to do it with certain results. For me, prayer is what effectively turns off worry.

You could say a worried state of mind is the opposite of a prayerful one. British philosopher Alan Watts describes worry in his YouTube lecture as "a mind in the grip of vicious circles." He says "Once you've learned to think you can't stop. And an enormous number of people devote their lives to keeping their minds busy and feel extremely uncomfortable with silence."

Yet silence is a vital ingredient of prayer. I know it (from that same chapter on prayer) as "the quiet sanctuary of earnest longings" in which "we must close the lips and silence the material senses."

Listening more than talking. Striving to silence the internal chatter to hear the voice of God. This takes discipline.

The Huffington Post's health editor, Amanda Chan writes that worrying isn't actually an action and most of our imagined worst-case scenarios rarely ever happen anyway. Chan's 9 Simple Things You Can Do To Be a Happy, Healthier Person? includes as #9: "Stop Worrying So Much." Makes sense since worrying is attributed to loss of sleep, appetite, and focus.

Easier said than done? Well, perhaps that leads back to my answer to the TV host: desire. Just wanting to make a change is the first step to realizing it.

I wouldn't call myself a chronic worrier, but like most people, I can get caught in the "what if" scenarios that usually don't lead to much, but take up a lot of valuable thinking space.

Before a recent short business trip from the east coast to California, I'd been worried about the travel and lifting my carry-on suitcase in and out of the overhead bins after dealing with an injury. Part of me didn't even want to go on the trip, even though I'd been looking forward to it. But when I finally got down to quieting my thought and listening in prayer for an answer, I found the peace I was seeking. The worry receded like the tide at the beach and I felt free to proceed with my plans.

That was the first trip when I never once had to ask for help. Kind passengers spontaneously offered to lift my bag and take it down, without ever knowing my need. On my return trip a co worker ended up accompanying me on my flight after a change in her travel plans. On my next trip a few weeks later I easily hoisted my suitcase in and out of the overhead bin--and this time, no offers to help. But I didn't need it. I was back to my energetic self and the worried thoughts were very much gone.

Some might say this was all coincidence. But I feel otherwise. I've come to trust in the divine to pilot my life and work out every detail, giving me peace of mind before I know how it will all turn out.

One thing I know for sure: prayer has a way of emptying thought of the daily stresses and replacing them with beautiful images of thought. In that space, I feel I'm open to seeing solutions to life's problems.