(Originally published as Present Moment Only on Living Whole)
Some days it feels like a kind of alchemy that I manage to pull off, taking my body from the car-crash state that it sometimes feels like it is in when I wake up to how I now am, 45 mins to an hour later, after my morning rituals (gentle yoga and exercise routines, movement to music and a few other tools up my sleeve). The person that roll-fell out of bed bears no resemblance, inside or out, to the one that walks back into the bedroom to reclaim my things ready to start the day when I’m done.
From the bed, my stirring husband will then sometimes (when he forgets what I’ve told him before) enquire as to “how was your night?” or words to that effect….words borne out of loving kindness and concern, for which I deeply cherish him. However, even the casual question “how are you doing?” requires a fuller post-mortem of my overall state than I really want to get into right after my mindfulness hour and here’s why.
The problem (and its a sticking point) is that to answer that question I have to rewind back to how I was at, say, 3am or when I first fell out of bed the morning, depleted of sleep or in a lot of pain…not how I am now. Even if I am feeling much better than I was back then, the altered state is still fragile, tenuous and I really don’t want to get into analysis right now because, in this moment, I am likely calm, neutral, holding the potential of improvement in my hand like a tiny flower that I don’t want to crush with the grip of too much thinking. I suspect we are all starting to become more familiar with the mantra that the present moment is where it’s all at; is where the real power of life resides. That “now” moment in our hand may seem fragile but its also the single most powerful thing we each have, though most of us don’t act like we realise it.
More than just some kind of cheesy “bumper sticker” speak, this core truth about the power of now is front and centre to making any positive changes in our lives, healing included. If our minds are constantly induced to rewind back to “how we were” before, even just an hour or a few minutes ago, then guess where we stay stuck, because our focus lands there? Yes, in the past, the way we were yesterday! Or with it’s equally troubling twin, worrying about the future. We can now forget about all the positive changes we just made by staying more present, all that undeniable feeling of spaciousness that seemed to make things feel “not so bad” or limiting for a little while as our minds went into neutral, because its all gone up in the smoke of habitual thinking.
Our mind loves the past (and the future), holding on like glue as there is just so much to think about there, whereas it is far more uncomfortable in the present because, it knows, it becomes largely obsolete in a zone where we don’t need to ruminate so much (really, at all) because we have all the experiential data we need. We don’t need track record or to predict in the present moment, because we are here, right now, where it is all happening, and whatever “it” is is generally not so bad as those other zones might have had us believe.
So, of course, our mind grabs onto any chance to rewind the clock, to get stuck into a ripping yarn about something that happened ages ago, weaving an elaborate story like a fireside pro. Before we know it, we’ve lost all our headway and that powerful, spacious, calm feeling we clawed back from our thoughts during a few moments of mindfulness or yoga, even just sitting watching the birds from our chair, is lost in favour of telling our story, yet again.
There used to be a similar pitfall for me, late at night, when my sleepy husband got into the habit of asking “are you alright?” on automatic pilot when I come up to bed half an hour later. Whether I am or I’m not, I prefer not to be sent down the track of enquiry that question takes me down because it can lead to the kind of ruminations that keep me awake…”how amI, indeed?”…a loaded granade of a question to ponder at bedtime for some of us. So I coached him out of that habit and now our unwritten agreement is to keep conversation out of the bedroom at night so we can both wind down into a relaxed slumber. That time right before sleep is a power-zone unto itself as the mindset we get into can blossom into a whole set of new patterns by the morning, so think what you plant in the earth of your evenings then tend the garden of your sleep arrangements carefully so it has the best chance to flourish.
In fact, these days, I try to spend at least half an hour in quiet time before I come up to bed, writing my gratitude diary and inducing a semi-sleepy state of calm, even before I clean my teeth and fall into bed. Reactivating the mind at this stage isn’t the best protocol…so I don’t.
Its hard when people around us act from the deepest concern but it doesn’t help us yet we don’t want to offend or rebuff them, thus I rode out these kinds of pitfalls for a long time, thinking it was “my problem” how I reacted to kind enquiries, not just at home but from family and friends. These days, I realise its far too important that I stay where the healing power is…right here and now…so I protect this zone by retraining the habits of others. I know my health situation best and have learned from experience that, in the big scheme of things, the only moment that matters and makes a lasting difference is here and now, where I am aware of my circumstances as they present in this moment, not how they have been or might be in some impossible-to-predict future scenario. The human propensity to dwell on track-record or to try to forecast outcomes is, perhaps, our biggest downfall and often the reason our wheels get so firmly stuck in the mud. When your conditions is “chronic” this is worth giving some serious consideration; how are you allowing that wheel to remain embedded and in what ways can you encourage others to support you to get into your power zone, so you can make changes and prove “chronic” wrong?
When we stay in the now, we can allow what is to just “be”, witnessing without reacting, remaining impassive and curiously objective, allowing some space to gather around whatever that circumstance or sensation happens to be. Take the precedent or the fear out it and, suddenly, we are in a far more neutral place and can simply play witness to whatever our body or other life experience (really it is always about the body as we only ever experience via our senses) delivers. This space is where all that power I keep speaking about resides, because it softens things and allows unexpected potentials to take form out of the limitless possibilities of the universe. Suddenly, we aren’t trapped in this or that but simply watching an unravelment of moments that could go one of countless ways, our very mindset helping to determine which road it takes at the crossroads, exactly the way our expectations influence the witnessing of a quantum leap (or, a rerun of the way things have always been…if that’s that we happen to expect). Positivity and openness are key to how we set these intentions. Constantly backtracking to “how things were” before, even a short time ago, isn’t helpful because, if we happen to have made that quantum leap in the past hour, minute or even split second, we can easily flip right back again.
This is one of the reasons I avoid seeing doctors and such…impossible to do so without raking over the whole track record of symptoms and scenarios and being pigeonholed then set-off along some particular route of expectations, accordingly. The more I keep to myself, the more unlimited my potentials feel, stretching out before me into the unwritten page of a fathomless future. That’s not to say don’t seek a medical opinion when you need one (you should always do that) but you surely hear what I’m saying; its hard not to take on the often quite rigid predictions of others when this happens, as my friend found out when she received her cancer diagnosis. For 6 years, she tried with every ounce of her being to defy the mindset of those around her with their less-than-favourable expectations as to how her prognosis, from treatment side-effects as well as the illness itself, would play out (using her own methods, including giving the treatments her own much more positive-sounding name, she underwent several rounds of “chemo” with no unpleasant side-effects at all) but they got to her in the end because, everywhere she looked, all the information suggested she was out of options, even when she didn’t feel that in herself. This taught me how it’s all the more important that we learn to guard our own viewpoint on our situation as best we can, in a world so fixated by precedents and predictions…no one else can label the state that we are in, by rights. For more on the power of belief to influence our biology, dive the work of biologist Dr Bruce Lipton, including his seminal book The Biology of Belief.
For me, this feels so important because, on paper, my condition sounds dreadful but, I’ve learned, its symptoms are not mutually exclusive from peace, calm, serenity, joy, excitement, fulfilment, happiness and so on, all of which I experience on a regular basis and, in fact, most of the time as my dominant states of being. Ask me how I am when I am less tired, thus unconscious in my answer, than on first waking up in the morning and I probably wouldn’t hesitate to say “I’m marvellous” on any given day. If I was to believe what others believe about how I “should” feel about my health, say on various health forums, I would have been done-for years ago. I simply wouldn’t have come as far as I have, which is very far indeed.
When I say “unconscious” I don’t mean to be patronising to myself or others with their more negative viewpoints; all I mean is that, when we have “gone unconscious”, we have momentarily stepped out of our natural inborn power because we have forgotten that now is all there is and got carried away by a story about how bad things have been or are going to be. Now is, quite literally, the only thing that matters, the place we should always prioritise and answer from when we talk to others, which would have spectacular results in terms of transforming the world but, sadly, we are so well versed in a linear perspective that we all regard ourselves, primarily, as part of a continuum…past, present and future, all rolled into one sizeable amalgam, entangled together unto the end of life’s conveyor belt. Thus, the baggage we lug around with us is as hefty as all the many years we have been on this planet plus all we concern ourselves about for the future, and it weighs a ton. No wonder we often don’t seem to get anywhere!
When it comes to those loved ones and other well-meaning people who enquire, even those we like catching up with over a chat where we regale each other with what’s been happening lately, we simply owe it to ourselves, and them if they want to help us, to request that they refrain from checking in so often, or, that they re-couch their question. “How are you (now)?” is far less loaded than “How have you been (since I last saw you)?” or “How did that thing (health dip, pain episode, drama, trauma) go?” Neither you nor they need the entire story…not when it reloads all the feelings, sensations and worries that we have previously had straight back into our nervous system, doubling, tripling, quadrupling the effect the more times we have to bring people up to speed. Sometimes I resort to a certain grin or a sort of hand gesture to imply “up and down” (such is life) then quickly move onto the better stuff.
Likewise, if there are certain times of day or situation when we prefer not to talk or to analyse at all, for instance right after mediation, when we first wake up, on our walks in nature or if we are having some quiet time today, then we carve out that space by telling people around us that we want to be left alone in these circumstances (we can’t expect them to be mind-readers unless we tell them this) and make sure to teach any other colleagues, family members and so on to honour this, yes even our kids (it can be done, as I have living proof of). If we like to go into our inner state when we do our hobbies, our number-crunching or even the washing-up, let people know that…and reap the benefits. We each take our meditative moments where they feel most natural to us and, the more time we spend in them, the more time we touch base with the present moment.
In honouring these needs, we go a very long way towards standing up for our right to be healthy in this moment, and for staying right here in such spaciousness and unlimited potential, far more often than not. The longer we stay here in the nowness, the more we realise the effect accumulates, blossoms and transforms, you can take it from me.
As ever, recommended material on this topic is everthing ever offered by Eckhart Tolle, including some of the most influential books you are ever likely to pick up: The Power of Now, A New Earth and his latest offering Oneness With All Things.
Disclaimer: Always seek a medical opinion if you are concerned about your health. This blog is anecdotal and does not constitute or replace medical advice.