The Gift of Presence
Learning how to live presently has been the biggest gift to myself. Back in the deepest days of my depression, I went to counseling; in fact, over the years, I have tried several counselors. I would start each session the same way. “I need coping skills so when my anxiety gets out of hand, I know what to do.” I had already tried Xanax and other benzodiazepines, which did take away the anxiety, but they made my body slow, my judgement clouded, and took away any sort of clarity, which is obviously important in day-to-day living. I found anxiety so debilitating, I would’ve shaved my head or walked places backwards if someone told me that’s what worked. Each counseling session went about the same way: we would talk about a past event, how it made me feel, why I felt that way, but there was never an actionable idea to solve the problem. Counselor after counselor, it seemed to go the same way and, for me, the outcome was of no benefit. Talking about the problem, or events that led to the problem, never fixed the problem for me. Therapy made me feel tired and emotional.
I never necessarily understood what being “present “meant. I was always around, so how could I not be present? The more I started to identify with the word “present,” and define it for myself, the more I understood that I actually was never present. If I could relate it to where I actually was spending my mental time, you could say my thoughts constantly brought me to the past. Past issues I had, past situations I could’ve handled better, past scenarios I would’ve played out differently. Or, you could say, I was living future. Future daydreams, what if scenarios, playing them out in my mind, usually worst- case-scenario type situations. If my future actually showed up like I was imagining, in end to end worst-case scenario situations, I would’ve been dead years ago.
It wasn’t until I actively started considering what my thoughts did for me that I begin to understand I actually never really lived in the present. Being present is another way of saying conscious, or aware. It’s actually living without thought from the past or without thought about the future. It’s actually living in the now. If you consider now, it is the only thing that ever exists. You only actually ever live in the unending present. It never changes to the future and it never goes back to the past. Something magical starts to happen when you live in the present. It doesn’t sound complicated, but when you really start to think about your life, how often are you really present? The only way to live the future of your dreams is to find bliss in the present. When you fundamentally realize the only important moment is now you will begin to live differently. When you realize the future of your dreams relies on living a happier and happier present, you will focus on the present. You will see that the past does not allow you to live a happier and happier present, so it seems pointless to relive it over and over. When you truly understand the importance of present living you will feel a shift about how you feel about the past and the future. They will become far less important.
Sitting with one of my two-year olds one morning, I wanted to consciously participate in the activity with him. I wanted to release any thoughts about the past, and I didn’t want to think about the future, I just wanted to remain present in the activity with him. Even though we were only shape patterning, the activity was liberating. I felt free from the bondage that held me every day, reliving past failures. I thought the only way I could improve as a person was to sit in the shame and guilt of my past and suffer. It also freed me from the worst-case-scenario future events that I felt doomed to live because of my past failures. In actuality, the failures that I made up for myself were far more severe than any actual event. It’s part of our ego’s way of saying we aren’t good enough, we could’ve done better. Sitting in the present moment begins to make you wonder, “What was I hoping to solve by reliving it over and over?”
I felt a little silly having such an “a-ha” moment doing shape patterns with a two-year-old. I felt more creative flow and ideas when I was actively being present than when I was actually trying to be creative by reliving creative experiences in the past.
When remaining present with your toddler, it can really affect their behavior. Anytime you are distracted by thoughts, devices, or TV, your toddler can pick up on that. A toddler only understands that he is the center of the world. He doesn’t understand that you actually have other things to do. For example, you’re out for a walk, and he notices a squirrel in a tree. He has had to try to get your attention three times, but you are distracted looking at your phone. He gets escalated, and you are not noticing because you are still distracted. That escalation’s going to build momentum throughout the rest of the morning if you are constantly distracted. As a busy mother, certainly you have things to do. When engaging with your toddler, keep in mind there are activities that you can do for yourself that can keep you present, and there are activities that should be saved for when he’s either sleeping or engaged in an activity of his own.