Week Two: Living Life in the Now.
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.” -Eckhart Tolle
I don’t remember the exact day the miracle happened, but I can describe the scene, as it was. I know i was driving (something I do for a good 15 hours a week….) This means I was probably meandering along 280-N, taking in a good audiobook, getting some giggles in over a podcast, or scream-singing a song. That’s when it would always hit. The debilitating fear and terror. I’m sure some of you know exactly what I am talking about. There isn’t always a clear reason for its onset, but when it would come…for me, usually when I was drivingAnd when it did?….oh baby, baby. Buckle up.
First would come the full-body wave of panic. Then, the shallow breaths. White knuckles on the steering wheel. Tunnel vision. Sometimes it would get so bad, I would wonder if I was actually dying. I’d call my husband and he’d have to talk me out of going to the ER. Could it be a heart attack? Is this where it ends?
These undulating waves of terror were nothing new for me, but in the throes of one particularly colossal attack, I realized it.
“Holy shit. You are perpetually placing yourself in a really messed-up time machine, Allie.”
You see, I was never, ever having these physical reactions to something that was happening in the present moment. My present moment was always full of Starbucks iced coffee, my aforementioned vehicular entertainment, and spectacular views of the California countryside.
These attacks would be in reaction to one of two possible mind-based scenarios:
Furiously “Futurecasting”: You know how meteorologists on the local news show you the Doppler radar future cast? They give you a good idea of what the weather patterns will look like in the upcoming weeks, right? This was a prime trigger for me. I would create a future scenario in my head—let’s say I had just received a particularly tough work email, and I needed to respond to it. My future cast would play out with my response causing an even worse situation, which would probably end up in having a face-to-face meeting, during which I’d be called out as a fraud and a charlatan, whichwould result in my crying and getting fired, which would somehow cause the dissolutionof my marriage and unravel my life. As you can see, if I let my untrained mind float into the future, the results were just a plethora of anxious “worst case scenarios.”
Replaying “Past Problems”: This is the same issue as above, but instead of postulating about the future, my fear-based panic attacks were also triggered by the giant Jumbotron in my brain, replaying any and all horrible things I had ever done. No one has a perfect past, but my untrained brain’s favorite thing to do on my daily drives was to recall some particularly shitty thing I had done, and then make me obsess of the minutia of how horrific it was, and how awful it made me. That’s where the “if only’s” and the “I shouldn’t haves” take over.
Sometimes, when my mind was feeling particularly talented, these two scenarios could play out simultaneously.
My revelation came to me, my dear positive people, in the midst of one of these two horrific mind-based nightmares. I was fearful and freaked the eff out (par for the course) when the miracle happened.
I realized it wasn’t real.
The shit I was thinking about in my mind was. not. real.
The human brain is a powerful tool, ladies. It is a marvelous and magnificent supercomputer. But it can also screw us over, big time. It can loop us in our past, or project us into the future, to the point where we cannot even enjoy the present moment. We can forget the present moment even exists. We can get lost in our thoughts.
Why would we want to do that, when the present moment is all we really have? And, most of the time, the actual present moment isn’t ever all that bad..even if we are struggling with a challenge.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t ever think about and learn from the past, or we should plan for the future….that would be irresponsible.
The past is a useful tool. We can look at our past patterns, and we can analyze where we acted favorably and unfavorably in situations. Then, we can take that information, and use it to react in present-moment situations. But, there is nothing gained from living in the past, ruminating over your mistakes, and feeling guilty. Whatever you have done lives in “unreality” now—-we can’t access it in our physical realm. Learn, then let it go.
The future can motivate us, if we use it properly. We can use the future to give us the push to save a nest egg, take our vitamins, and wear a seatbelt. But we can’t allow the future to blind us. You’ll notice that I tended to worry about things going wrong in the future—that would trigger my panic attacks. I would also use the future as a giant placeholder for happiness.
“I’ll be happy in three months, once I’m on that vacation.”
“I can’t wait until Friday, I’ll be so relaxed then.”
“I want to be in Las Vegas right now….not at work.”
Sure, it’s fun to have these calendar items to look forward to, but be careful. Don’t live too much in your “future fantasy.” You can certainly find happiness now. Look around you. As I write this, the Sunday sun has softened to that “pre-twilight,” where it is still bright out, but you know night is coming soon. The sweet, warm breeze of the day still lingers in the room, where my adorable cat sits curled at my feet, while I type on this wonderful MacBook Air I own, while drinking fresh water from a tap in my comfortable apartment in Northern California.
I could go on and on, guys, but I thinkyou get the point. In this present moment, I have so much to appreciate and to be grateful for. I have so much to enjoy in my real, physical world.
I mention this because prior to sitting down to write this, I started to future-cast myself in a world where I wasn’t meeting deadlines and disappointing everyone (myself included). I was also placing myself into my past problems, chiding past Allie for not working on this sooner. That, my friends, is what caused me to snap back to reality, and to share this week’s musing with you.
This week, pay close attention for moments where you have stopped living in the “Now,” or your present moment. Decide whether you are future casting, or if you are living in a past problem. Try to detach yourself emotionally from the mind-based thought, and decide if and how it can serve you—-could you extrapolate from the past problem and apply a lesson learned from it right now? If not, release it and let it go. If so, take that lesson, then release it and let it go. Future casting a worst-case scenario? Let’s release those and let them go. Giving anxiety and worry the driver’s seat is just manifesting things we don’t want in our lives. Are you reading this on Monday and praying for the weekend? Stop. Weekends are great, but so is your present moment. Use that awareness of what you are thinking about to drive you to gratitude for the things you have right now.
As always, be sure to print the worksheet and the printable for your self-development space below.
Eckhart is the man on the Power of Now, guys. He wrote a whole damn book about it. Between that, and A New Earth, this man has shifted my entire worldview. Highly recommend these two texts, yet again.