As a psychiatrist, I spend a great deal of time with my patients examining the past. We reflect on our histories in order to better understand the path that brought us here, to this point in time and space. We hope that making sense of our past allows us to be more conscious, more aware, and therefore make more conscious and aware choices moving forward.
However, as I gradually move closer towards a mindful way of being, more and more of me wants to stay focused in the present moment. But what does this mean exactly? Our thoughts are almost always pulling us back into the past, or accelerating us ahead into the imagined future, while moment after moment continues to pass us by. Our heads are full of ruminations, judgments, predictions and evaluations, all of which add up to layer upon layer between us and our lived experience. Thoughts can be loud static in my head, and to be honest, I am tired of the deafening sound.
These days I want to simply feel my way through life, wholeheartedly, with my emotions leading the way.
My thoughts often mislead me, misguide me in sneaky ways. They interfere with allowing my heart and soul to be in full contact with my world. I can’t really feel, truly, deeply feel, my connection with my children, if I am thinking about why they haven’t done their homework yet again. I can’t feel the pulse of the person making my coffee, if I am judging their piercings and tattoos. I can’t lose myself in the glorious colors of a vivid sunset, if I am wondering whether I will ever see such a beautiful sunset again.
Coming back to the present moment is the art of starting over, and over, and over, while gently placing our thoughts to the side.
This means dropping our story lines, all that we think is truth about ourselves, our lives, and the people around us. This is radically difficult to do. But what if we could actually leave those stories behind? Who would we be if we weren’t convinced we were bad at math, or doomed in relationships? Who would we be if we didn’t assume our spouse never helps with the dishes, or our boss always criticizes our work?
We would simply arrive where we are, with curiosity as to what will arise.
We would meet ourselves and others and the world around us with wonder and interest, and respond according to what our heart feels. We would breathe into our experiences, take it all in without layers of defense, and allow ourselves and others the grace of starting fresh, whatever that looks like.
Even as I write these words, I think about all of the “what ifs” and “buts” about why it is so hard to actually live life like that. Our histories, our past experiences, create a learning that we hope protects us from future hurt. We use these stories to predict the future, as if that gives us a sense of control of what will and won’t happen.
The flip side of that coin is we live holding onto the reins so tightly, that we forget how to let go. As we try and protect ourselves from hurt, we also protect ourselves from raw honest beauty and connection. As we try and defend ourselves from the pain of the unknown, we also defend ourselves from the unexpected power that comes with true vulnerability. I am not sure the trade-offs are worth it.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in considering how and why we can drop the stories we hold onto so tightly…and instead arrive in the present moment, fresh, curious, starting over and over again. What can you discover?
With gratitude, Monisha