Today is the greatest
Day I've ever known
Can't live for tomorrow,
Tomorrow's much too long....
~Billy Corgan, "Today," Siamese Dream (Smashing Pumpkins), 1993
I recall a session with my therapist where I had just recounted a very painful story from my childhood. In telling my story I was able to get in touch with feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, and fear. Later in the session I talked about having those same feelings but related to a situation in my then current adult life. My therapist, big on finding themes and patterns within our therapy sessions, brought to light that I was responding to situations in my adult life much the way I did as a child. And then he would ask what he always asked, "That was (year of childhood event). What about (present year)? Is what was true then still true for you today?" Then we would create a list of everything which is different for me now including: I am an adult, I have more control and power over my life, I have supports, and I have more knowledge of how to respond to life's situations. It was a very effective therapeutic strategy in helping me to understand that I am not the same person that I was as a child or even a year ago. We are always growing, evolving, and learning new ways to cope.
The main premise of my therapist's strategy was to keep me in the present. During the many years since my therapy ended, I still utilize this philosophy to keep me grounded and sane. This guiding principle to remain in the present is not a new one. Staying with the now is one of the central tenets to Buddhist philosophy where one learns to detach from the past and an undetermined future in order to live fully in the present. How can one concentrate on what is happening now if our minds are clogged up with what has already happened or with our visions of the future. When we cannot move beyond our past experiences and live in fear of the future we feel stuck and trapped. I envision it being something like being caught in the narrow space between the screen door and the front door, afraid to come in and afraid to go out.
I am sure many of us have examples of where we are faced with living now or with living in the past or worrying about the future. In my life this theme keeps being repeated with such frequency that I feel it is my grand lesson. Right now I struggle to remain in the present as I deal with having a chronic illness called Multiple Sclerosis. You know that saying, "I need this like a hole in the head"? This could be my slogan as MS is typified by lesions or plaques in the brain. On an MRI these lesions look like white spots. Over time it is possible that the disease will progress to the point where these lesions become black holes as the damage to the brain becomes permanent. It is a rather frightening thought to think of my brain in this way. I have had to adapt to the notion that I now have "holes" in my brain possibly leading to disability. As part of my acceptance process, I have had to adopt the "live in the now" mantra not just as some esoteric philosophy, but as something which is necessary for my emotional survival.
On some days I do get trapped in the past as I think about the things I used to do with ease or all the worries I did not used to have with regard to my health. But lingering in the past does nothing for me now except to cause me emotional pain. Then there is the future. Of course I worry about finding myself unable to walk or talk. Visions of a wheel chair loom. It is just like that story, "A Christmas Carol" where the ghosts are there to show the shadows of what has been and what might be in the future. But when you think about it, the past and future are as unreal as ghosts. They only exist as memories or visions. You can't go back in time and nobody has a crystal ball into the future. So where does that leave us? Right here, right now.
Having this disease has forced me to refocus my energy towards conscious living. There is so much beauty and wonder in the world that I had been missing because I was too stuck inside my head thinking about things over which I have no control. I may not be able to resurrect the past or predict the future but I can live fully in this moment. I feel as though I have been given a gift of perspective and appreciation for understanding that life is so very precious. I want to be aware of my life as I live it and not as a past reflection. Living in a memory is not truly living.
As I am sure so many of us can attest to, living isn't easy. There are challenges in our life which will bring us to our knees. But as adults we have a choice as to how we react. We can ruminate about the things which have passed or the things which might be in our future or we can enjoy our life right now. My message to you is that it is possible to enjoy life despite the past and our uncertain future. Staying in the present keeps us sane, resilient, and able to embrace what is.
What will you do with this moment? Or how do you try to stay in the present? Share it with us. We always love to hear from you.