As much as possible, try not to “future-trip.” It’s so easy to get caught up in worries about things that may never come to pass, to start envisioning worst-case scenarios, to formulate conversations in your head, or come up with plans you might not ever need. While you’re busy boiling yourself this way, your nervous system is tensing up and sending cortisol through your body, as if these events are actually occurring. In other words, you can make yourself sick with worry. You can raise your blood pressure with your thoughts.
When are we most likely to do this to ourselves? When we’re feeling vulnerable, tested, or threatened, and maybe it’s part of our inclination toward negativity bias, too. We survived as a species by being alert to possible danger, but there aren’t too many sabertooth tigers waiting to chase us down to eat us for lunch these days. We aren’t built for longterm stress, we’re built for short bursts. If we’ve been hurt before, we try to set things up so we won’t be hurt again, and that’s understandable, but you don’t want to live defensively. You know the saying, right? “Hurt me once, shame on you…hurt me twice, shame on me.” But the thing is, living in fear isn’t really living, it’s gripping. When we start to spin out, and imagine all the things that could go wrong, we’re losing the potential for peace in the current moment. We’re feeding fear instead of love. If you’re dealing with survival, keeping a roof over your head, and caring for your loved ones, that’s real stress, but worrying won’t help, action will. Any small thing you can do to try to right the ship or get some momentum happening is going to make you feel more energized and hopeful, and optimism in the face of difficulty is often the difference between turning things around, or staying stuck.
The same is true when we travel back in time, with regret, despair, or longing. Whatever has happened, it’s behind us. Of course we all have treasured memories, and there’s nothing wrong with visiting old friends and cherished loved ones we can’t hug anymore, in our minds and in our hearts. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about traveling backward as if we could redo or undo something. There’s no potential left in the past. We can learn from it, we can be softened by it, but we can’t rewrite it.
For so many people, the mind catapults from one to the other. Longing and sadness over things behind them, fear and anxiety over things out ahead of them, and the poor nervous system goes along for the ride. The most powerful way I know to land yourself fully in the now, is to become aware of your breath. That’s the greatest gift of yoga, and seated meditation—they both center around your breath. Those inhales and exhales are always happening in the present moment, and if you can feel your breath, you know you’re here; awake, aware, engaged with life, which isn’t happening behind you, or out in front of you. It’s happening right now.
Worry doesn’t change the outcome of a thing. Believe me, if worrying about something could prevent it from happening, we’d know about that by now. We’ve all had the experience of making ourselves ill over something that never came to pass, right? It’s especially hard when we love people and we’re concerned for their well-being. Maybe someone you love beyond words is putting herself in harm’s way. How do you not worry about that? First of all, when we love people, we make ourselves vulnerable, so you may as well accept that. And, you can’t save anyone but yourself, and you may as well accept that, too. There are certain answers we’ll never have until we exhale for the final time, and perhaps, not even then and that also makes us vulnerable.
Anyway, my point is, we can’t control the outcome of anything except how we face what we’re given, and even that takes tremendous effort. We can love people with everything we’ve got. We can offer an ear, our shoulder, a hand up if we’re in a good position. We can listen, we can grieve with people, or make them a meal, or try to find help for them if we aren’t sure how to help them ourselves, but our worry doesn’t help anyone. If someone is afraid for themselves, you really don’t help by reflecting that fear back to them. If someone is suffering, you don’t serve them by getting down in the mud and wailing with them.
I believe you can help a lot simply by being present with someone, being able to hold a space for someone’s grief or anger or loneliness or confusion or shame. That’s a huge thing you can do, but you can only do that if you show up with open ears, an open heart and an open mind. You won’t find those things behind you or in front of you. They’re within you. When you can show up that way for yourself, and for all the people in your life, then I believe you’re really living. Life is short and precious, or it’s a long and painful; I believe those are the options. Try not to miss too many moments. Life brings enough heartbreaks of its own, we don’t have to make this stuff up. It also offers a million gifts a day if we’re paying attention. It’s easy to take it for granted that we all woke up today, right? But that is a gift. If you have your health, it’s a gift. If you have people in your life whom you love with your whole heart, that’s a gift, even if they’re causing you some pain right now. Loving people so deeply that we hurt when they hurt, is a gift. Try not to miss too many gifts if you can help it.
Sending you love and a hug,
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