This week and last I’ve been talking about anxiety. And trying to find some ways to think about it, address it, and learn from it. And today seems like the perfect time to talk about living in the present.
Today’s big idea is that anxiety is often the result of living in the future instead of living in the present. And thinking about what hasn’t happened yet, perhaps even dreading it, or just trying to anticipate what might be coming down the pike. Of course it’s not bad to think about the future. You do want to give thought to where you’re headed and planning is generally a pretty handy skill to have.
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BUT, like anything else, thinking about the future can become a habit.
Lord knows if I ever wake up in the middle of the night the first place my brain likes to go is what’s happening tomorrow. What I have to do, who I have to write back to, what errands need running, etc, etc, etc. It’s only when I remember to enjoy the feeling of being cozy in bed, at rest, and being thankful for the roof over my head and the covers that are keeping me warm that I get back into the relaxed state where drifting off is easy.
Also, in the future you aren’t in control of what’s happening.
Because you’re not there. It’s a weird, disembodied place to be. And, the brain can’t tell the difference between an imagined event and a real event—that’s why when you see a sad movie you cry or a scary movie and you get stressed. So, if you’re frequently thinking about the future and what might possibly happen—or, let’s face it, go wrong—you’re exposing yourself to stress that’s imagined but it’s physiological effects are very real.
Living in the present moment, is really the only place we can fully inhabit, and have our minds and bodies be integrated and in the same space.
When we are whole, and not fragmented, we are safe. We can handle whatever is happening. We can rest. And we can observe. We can respond. And we can connect with whomever else happens to be in this moment with us. The present is our home. The future is a mirage. A dream. And often times not a very good dream, either.
So, the short version of that long explanation is that a way out of anxiety is to come on home and start living in the present.
Paying attention to your body is how you come back living in the present where your life is happening, where you are home.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is to, right this second, feel what’s going on with your body. Check in with your feet. Where are they? And what else can you feel right now–your butt on a seat? The sun on your cheek? Your clothes on your skin? Your breath moving in your lungs? Just be with your body for a moment. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
The truth is, to start to change a habit of running off in to a mental future, you’ll likely need to come back several times a day. It’s not the fact that you wander off that matters; it’s making sure you remember to re-orient yourself in the present. This is such an important and helpful skill–to notice when you’ve gotten off track and to just start again.
And if there’s any part of you that is nervous that by pulling yourself out of the future that you will somehow be unprepared for the future once it’s here:
Renowned teacher of mindfulness and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has a great quote that I’ll leave you with:
“The present moment is the substance with which the future is made. Therefore, the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.”
So, on this day that is so often filled with scrambling to take care of tomorrow, I hope that this episode will help you meet back up with yourself in the here and now and begin living in the present so that you can experience the moment before it’s gone.