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The Turbine of Torment Over Worry!

Updated on March 11, 2013

The Turbine of Torment

1. To chew cud.

2. To turn a matter over and over in the mind.

To reflect on something over and over again.

Chewing the cud is a phrase that probably first was coined a few thousand years ago on a hill near Athens. “What are you doing Orthos? Sitting there. Pondering the imponderable?”

Orthos turned his eye to the goats. Looking over at his herd, he thought. “I am chewing the cud, just like that old Grump Hercules! He has mastered his life, I was trying to figure out how to master mine!”

When roughage is eaten by the adult goat, it is chewed on, soaked with saliva, and then swallowed. This ball of food is called “the cud”. It goes down into the rumen to be attacked and broken digested by the micro-organisms. Over time in predictable intervals the cud is returned to the goat’s mouth for further chewing.

There is a gaseous burp which expels the stinky bubble. If the gases don’t escape properly the goat can get what is called “bloat”.

Eventually the particles are reduced to a digestible form and can eventually be digested by hydrochloric acid, similar to humans. This process has been observed for millennia by our species. Unfortunately, we mimic the activity in a mental way.

Not only Fruitless, But Poisonous!

The natural analogy that has occurred over in language makes lots of sense. To turn something over and over again and “chew your cud”, or rumination. If you extend the analogy, there is even more opportunity for color. Gas and bloat tends to be what we get as humans when we continue to chew the cud of our worrisome repetitive issues.

Those who are plagued with this problem will confess that great creative leaps and uncommon confidence and power DO NOT accrue to those who “chew the cud”.

Dr. Herbert Benson in his decades of work showing how positive meditation is also, correspondingly has shown how deleterious and poisonous our self-inflicted stress responses can put us behind the eight ball. “Chewing the Cud” of repetitious worry in our own personal mental terrain has the effect of NOT digesting and allowing our bodies to absorb and assimilate. Rather we get soaked with harmful substances which lead to very real health problems.

Certain hormones fuel the body’s stress response, speeding breathing and heartbeat, directing extra blood flow to the brain and muscles, perking up the immune system, and triggering other changes that prepare your body to respond to a perceived threat.

He goes one. “At times, the stress response is appropriate and necessary, helping us rise to meet physical and emotional challenges. But stress hormones that are triggered too often or stuck in overdrive can fuel worrisome health problems—from headaches and heartburn to high blood pressure and heart disease.”

A Passive Brooding

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D is an excellent source for discussing this issue. Ruminating – a repetitive, passive brooding – can trigger depression, says Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D., author of Women Who Think Too Much (Holt Paperbacks) and The Power of Women (Times Books).

“Your mind goes round and round over negative events in the past, problems in the present or bad things you’re worried will happen in the future,” says Nolen-Hoeksema, who is a pioneer in the study of women’s rumination and depression has brought a strong light to this kind of suffering.

The phrase “passive brooding” is well chosen. It holds in it the key to why “chewing the cud” is so damaging. Passivity carries with it a sense of helplessness. The over and over of repetition that is passive means that our minds are functioning in unconscious cycles. If you think about it, this function can become so persistent and powerful, it is as if we are walking around in a semi-unconscious state. The “Passivity” makes us in a way “somnambulistic”. Yes, we are awake, but the empty passivity allows the Turbine of Thought to whirl away, putting unnecessary destructive mileage on our hearts, blood pressure and stomach acid levels.

The importance of consciousness to what is going on in our minds is essential. One woman in Pennsylvania with several personal relationship issues put it this way in a counseling session with me, several years ago. “When I actually become alert, or awaken to what my mind has been doing; chewing and chewing on certain thoughts over and over again, I ask myself how long I have been doing this?”

“And what have you discovered?” I asked.

“I have discovered that my “chewing the cud” happens when I am most on “automatic”. It is like I am in the garage with my car on neutral and I am mindlessly pressing on the accelerator. What happens? The garage is full of exhaust. All I can feel is helpless negative doldrums. When I finally wake up to this, I realize that I am not as “worried” as I think I am, I have just fallen prey to this unconscious process that seems to develop a mind of its own.

Because I am “chewing the cud”, I am not coming up with any answers. I am just burning gas and getting depressed.”

The Joy that Comes in Realizing that I Don’t Have Four Stomachs

When you hear the “chewing the cud” image, the rumination, you think somehow that it is valid or natural. The truth is we are human, not goats or cows. “Chewing the cud” for me does not make me digest better. It does not give me new and better answers. It just makes me sick. For the goat or the cow it has a purpose and it is the way nature works. This is a colorful linguistic phrase, but it is useless and fruitless because I don’t chew the cud, and I do not succeed when I try to endlessly turn issues, relationships, insults, situations over and over and over in my head. I think a part of me was thinking somehow that I could come up with new angles on things. No. No. No angles, just frustration and depression.”

We had several sessions over the months and she felt that she gained much just by observing her thought patterns. At the last session, she said: “The stuff I was worried about was not that severe. It was life issues and irritating relationships, but it was the perpetuation of thought was very damaging. Now when I feel depressed, I check the cud chewing before I ask, “Who died?”

A Story from my own Turbine of Torment

In my third paralegal job in the 90’s, I was in a large Denver firm and 3 of my kids were teens with the third fireball female daughter of 10 bringing up the rear. I became worried I would lose my job because of one particularly sarcastic person in a mid level role. The way I felt about this person became an “idée fixe” in my head. The cud chewing started. There was no event, or argument or personnel matter, it was just that I came to conclude that this person was after my job. After about three weeks of feeling possessed by this, my wife asked. “What is wrong?”

I tried to explain it to her. I discovered something in my wife’s questioning. The rumination was very real in my head, but explaining it all seemed pitifully devoid of substance. I failed so greatly at actually explaining it that she smiled and said: “OK, so you’re afraid this person is going to get you fired. You’re just afraid of that.” She smiled and kissed me and said, “We’ll deal with it, if something actually happens.”

Now I would say I was dealing with a fear of unemployment at a time of domestic pressure in a new environment. Yeah. But that wasn’t the “problem”. The problem was my Turbine of Torment that tainted family events, outings, dinners ---- just being a Dad. I was depressed, despondent, remote. I had my “off” button on.

Later on when I was counseling at a paralegal school, I often had opportunities to try to buck people up and motivate them in formal teaching and personal situations. I noted that this “cud chewing” had a way of weakening individuals who were under a great deal of pressure. When they were able to break the bonds of their repetitive thinking they were able to discover solutions aplenty.

I realized that there had to be ways to “rest” the brain and revitalize it. Neurotransmitters like Serotonin tend to be replenished when we just move – walk, taking jaunts and getting “physical”. Picking up games and hobbies can help – tennis, dance, sculpting, art . This gets the brain in another frame and lets you benefit from the warm ease that serotonin gives you. This is a neurotransmitter that we can really use.

Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors have a way of elevating the mood and getting people out of endless patterns. See a Doctor for this kind of response, but many people benefit even from understanding the very function of the brain regarding “reuptake”.

Whether you need to address clinical depression or not, is a professional question; but taking a hard look at your mental patterns can be therapeutic at many levels. Many people know if they have a “Turbine of Torment”. Families and loved ones often share these issues and find that somehow genes, temperament and similarity of behavior patterns seem to have a way of helping explain ourselves to ourselves. Parents can help their children in these matters too. These kinds of talks often provide a relief and give one a sense that they aren’t alone.

Teach yourself to abandon “cud chewing” and you may discover that you are disempowering problems that seemed to have great control over you, but now do not. This kind of realization lets you leave the goat herd and join the human race.


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