You know the Joni Mitchell song that says, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”
Well ,that doesn’t make for a very present life, does it?
Creativity, connection, soul, inspiration and intuition are available only in the present moment and for the present moment.
The Gifts of Being Present
You have to actively choose to take part of that moment. You have to actively take part in that dance, fleeting but while it’s there, it’s real, felt, and true. Only when you fall into that moment can you access the energies, wisdom and guidance available to you in that moment.
Even better, that wisdom, embedded in your creativity and presence, is coming from YOU. You just needed to be there in order to soak it in.
Imagine. In every moment you can be open to more and more of those opportunities. You just have to:
- Wake up and realize you the gift of being present.
- Push past the fear of being present.
- Soak in the gifts of being present.
- Rinse, repeat.
This is coming from someone who lived in numbness for years. I still do, because I’m human and coping behaviors don’t vanish overnight. But every day, I try to make small improvements, while forgiving myself if I don’t “ace” the present test all the time. 27 surgeries, sexual abuse, six years unable to eat or drink…It wasn’t very fun being in the “here” and “now” all the time.
You Won’t Be Present All The Time
In the midst of my traumas – and there were many of them – I froze to not feel physical emotional pain. I can name countless times I had to feel “numb” over those ten years, but here are five small isolated examples:
- Being home from the hospital and not allowed to drink even a drop of fluid. I numbed myself from feeling thirsty.
- Being a surgical guinea pig and being prodded by doctors I didn’t know with strange pointy objects.
- Learning my grandmother died while I was in a coma, and swallowing my grief because I couldn’t face the pain of my world pre-coma slowly disappearing
- Being sexually abused and “leaving my body” as a way to cope with the betrayal
- Coping with the setbacks after surgery and trying to get “accustomed” to my surgical wounds routinely exploding.
Wow, that doesn’t sound very fun. But onto the good stuff. After the hard times in life, how to you “un-teach” yourself to be numb and learn how to live in the present again, once the present is not such a scary place anymore, but rather, a beautiful adventure?
Un-learning bad habits to live the life you deserve
After my actual traumas were over, the real work began. Now the danger was gone, but the coping mechanisms remained. I was numb when I didn’t need to be anymore and caught in a pattern couldn’t escape. This is part of a journal entry from that period:
“My head is buzzing with numbers and I am not sure why. I am not sure what they mean anymore. What was once supposed to be the puzzle pieces of meaning in my life don’t hold as true anymore. I don’t even know what moving is or what stillness. I don’t even know what is my natural state. I don’t know what is uncomfortable and what feels good. My days mirror each other like a never-ending hall of mirrors. In this vacuum I have no sense of right or wrong, what is more preferable and what is least desirable.
I get so scared of myself – I feel like a nervous crazy anxious fireball and I don’t know what I can do. What did I do to handle other situations after surgery where I had to get through terrible lengths of time? I numbed out – that’s the only way I know. What do I do now that I need a different coping mechanism? I’m tired of being in my head, I feel dizzy as it is. If my heart is beating so loudly, I can draw it, but whatever I do, I do compulsively. It is like a trapped maze I can’t get out of. I would be able to draw what I’m feeling if I knew what it was.”
Baby Steps to Being Present are Big Steps to Being Happy
Here are small steps I took to learning to be in the moment again:
- Value the being, not the doing.
- Awareness is the key to all change. Don’t worry about how you’re going to “fix” this, just be aware that you’re looking to change.
- List any coping behaviors you have in your life that take you out of the present moment.
- Find one moment a day where you choose to be “uncomfortable”. For one moment, be aware of a coping mechanism you’re acting on, plant your feet, and just breathe.
- Take baby steps. You don’t want to feel uncomfortable for every second of the day, but you just have to push yourself through a little bit of it just to know that you can get through it.
How to Interrupt the Freeze Response
What else can you do to interrupt the “freeze” response, or to become “un-numb”?
- Physically interrupt it with sensation – run your hands under hot water.
- Use your voice. Say something outloud.
- Look up right brain and left brain exercises and do one of each.
Once I decided to slowly be present in life again – however difficult that was – I started to reframe my circumstances and find greater meaning in what life had tested me with. I felt like the hero of my on story, which gave me strength to carry on.
This was an entry that shortly followed:
“When I am in the moment, grace comes to me because I allow it to, I let it into me with stillness. I breathe in as the earth breathes out, and then the reverse so the world has its own natural rhythm that I just go along with. All throughout these years it has been so confusing for me to make choices because I didn’t know what to base them on, because I did not have myself, I did not have my body to inform me ‘oh that feels right, no that doesn’t feel good, oh, but I like that’, so instead, I was left wandering in the dark, just basing choices on numbers like time, or based them on what choice would involve the most movement, just because otherwise I would have no idea what basis to make a decision on.”
If you aren’t present, you can’t make decisions. If you can’t make your own decisions, the world is a scary place.
Learning to be present is hard work. It’s not always so much fun. It’s a daily practice that we need to work up to, especially when we’ve been used to staying numb to deal with a difficult time in our lives.
“I’m so confused – I don’t want to do any of this. I don’t know how to make choices. I can plot and plan and construct in my mind, but I still have no idea what ends up being the best decision in the end. I try to say: I trust that whatever decision I make at this moment is good enough. So potentially, I could just decide on doing anything, and trust that that choice I made was “good enough”, and so that would take the anxiety away, right? One side of me wishes I could just stay numb, but the other part of me wishes I could be present and still have a serene frame of mind, because that is the way of the world, and you can’t find true happiness or wisdom unless you are in the world. I care more about happiness than wisdom right now.”
Being in the moment can be boring.
Think of it as an investment that won’t always thrill every time. Sometimes I’d try to plant my feet, take a deep breath and feel my feelings, expecting a whole spiritual rebirth and healing lightning bolt to strike me with brilliance, but nothing happened. The moment just came and went. I was confused, like, what’s the point? Breathing and being “present” is just boring:
“I feel like my empty world is being unpeeled like an onion, and I’m waiting for this giant goody-bag inside but it’s just layers and layers of onion that make me cry more and more as I get closer to its center, and I peel and peel, crying harder and harder, but carrying on because everyone tells me that there’s a diamond at the heart of it, and I finally manage to get down to the final layers, and before I know it, I’ve peeled the onion apart and I’m just left with shiny thin peels all over the onion.”
Being in the moment can make you want to give up.
Not covering up my pain, hurt and loss with numbness and destructive coping mechanisms was hard work. And for a while, it didn’t seem like there would be any pay off. Healing doesn’t happen over night, and it doesn’t happen “for good” either. You could feel entirely on the other side, about to pen your inspiring memoir, and the next day you could feel like you’re back and square one.
But don’t give up. Keep going. You don’t always have to force yourself to be present. GO easy on yourself. Healing from ANYTHING is hard work.
The Only Rule of Healing That You Need to Know:
The only thing you’re required to do? Stay curious. Stay open. Stay wondering…to quote an old entry:
“I do wonder what god’s plan is for me – that he has strategically lined up disillusionment after disillusionment, shattering my world one by one like the many shells of a Russian wooden doll, where each cup is removed, my world has been broken down layer by layer to turn me down to dust, like he wants me to discover my soul underneath it all, without all the colors and fireworks – like he must have something very special for me all lined up, and he obviously wants me to live. The challenges are so difficult, though.”
The Only Other Rule of Healing:
Whatever you do is something to be proud of. Remember, it’s okay to freeze. It’s okay to cope in unhealthy ways to get through. It’s okay to be stuck in the past. You’re human. The beauty in your “detour” is waiting for you when you’re ready to take a breath, regroup, and keep traveling on.
Here’s an affirmation I’d like to leave you with:
I trust that whatever decision I make in this moment is best, because I made it. I trust my decision with confidence, self-love and presence. I am capable of making decisions.
Everyone heals at their on pace. Today, take care of you.