Why is it so hard to be Present?
“Be where you are, otherwise you will miss your life.” -Siddhartha Gautama. This quote seems incredibly straightforward to me. It’s about being present and living in the moment. It’s about being accessible to the people in your life because you listen and share their experiences. It’s also somehow a lot harder than it sounds.
Yesterday, I woke up too early and felt like I could not catch up with myself. My heart was racing, my breath would not come, all I wanted to do was sit and cry. Why? That’s a good question, but not one to which I know the answer. As I was trying far too hard to catch my breath, I had the thought that I needed to be present. There was nothing actually wrong at the moment, no overwhelming obstacle standing in my path, so if I could just exist in the here and now, everything would be alright. Except that this thought just made things worse.
Instead of thinking, I should be where I am, and suddenly feeling a peaceful sense of zen. I thought, I should be where I am, what the hell is wrong with me? And then proceeded to add my own mental attack to my already fragile self, knowing that I was making things worse and not being able to stop the sickening cycle.
Fortunately, we had to catch a ferry. And strangely, this helped.
Maybe it isn’t strange, maybe it’s just that I had to get out of my head enough to get myself and two of my children onto a boat. It was enough to stop the downward spiral, but I can’t say that it really brought me to the present.
As we walked along a small creek and through forests of ferns and towering cedars, I mostly stayed stuck. It was somehow worse that I should be pointlessly upset and anxious in such a stunningly pristine setting. If I couldn’t be at peace in the splendor of nature, it was all hopeless. I was definitely broken. When all seemed a complete loss, we decided to take a different path.
Instead of meandering along the well worn trail, we went up and over, navigating our way
through sliding rocks and among the root covered boulders. We problem solved through thorny thickets, evaluated paths, climbed where we could and helped each other make it through. Without even realizing it, I was breathing.
The lake greeted us with lily pads and water lilies shimmering in the sunlight. We climbed along logs, jumped off rocks into the water and laughed together. It was magically fun, it was a moment worth savouring. I was there, I was present, it was awesome. But, I couldn’t hold on to it.
I’m not as submerged in the darkness as I was before, but I am still wrestling with the weight that threatens to pull me back under. I’m still wrestling with why I can’t just be here.
I’m pretty sure that thinking is the problem. I don’t just have thoughts rattling in my head, I become my thoughts and then I’m stuck rattling in my head. Or maybe my thoughts are a labyrinth where I am wandering in eternal circles wondering if I will come upon the minotaur, or if I will ever unwind my way to freedom.
All of this reminds me of a therapist that I saw a number of years ago, who helped me out of one of the darkest times in my adult life. She told me to be in my body, rather than think about being in my body. They sound similar, but are not the same thing. In fact they are about as opposite as two things can be.
I’m pretty good at thinking about being in my body. I know it’s helpful and one of the keys to being present. The problem is that I’m much better at thinking about it than I am at actually doing it. Thinking feels productive, it seems like if I just turned it over in my mind enough times, I would work it all out, the angels would sing and there would be peace in my heart.
Sadly, that isn’t ever what happens. When I think about being present, I end up in the labyrinth everytime. The only way I have found to stop the spinning is to stop thinking and start feeling.
While I’m typing this, I’m trying to be actively here, in my body. I am feeling my fingers moving over the keyboard. Feeling the way my jaw is tight and my tongue is glued to the top of my mouth. I am placing my feet on the floor and feeling them there.
I know it doesn’t sound like it should be a hard thing to do, but for some reason it is. For some reason, the act of drinking my tea, while being aware of it going into my mouth, tasting it and feeling it move down my throat and into my body takes a Herculean effort. (Unlike the first cup, which I don’t remember drinking at all.) My mind rebels and tells me it’s a waste of time, but my body knows better. My body feels the difference that tasting my tea actually makes.
I’d love to say that my anxiety is all solved and I will now go through life in a blissful state of tea drinking presence, but maybe I won’t quite start there. Instead, I’ll aim to be present today. I’ll leave my labyrinth of thoughts and meander through the interactions of the here and now. I don’t want to miss my life, it’s precious and fleeting. I’ve been granted this amazing gift, the least I can do is be here to receive it.