by Barry Kerr and Kristine Gay
How many times have you found yourself ruminating over some experience in the past and feeling sad or angry about it. Or perhaps you’ve worried about something in the future, imagining some undesirable scenario and feeling anxious or afraid. It’s only human, right? Don’t we all do it?
Well yes, we all do it. However some of us do it less than others. And that’s not by accident. People learn to stop it. And there’s a good reason: It doesn’t feel good! In fact, if left unchecked, this habit creates misery. Why? Because our feelings aren’t always based on what is real, even though our mind is telling us it’s real.
It’s very typical for most people to experience the present moment through a lens; a lens of past experience. Our brain naturally searches for similarities to the past as a way of protecting us from repeating mistakes or as a way to duplicate pleasure. This mental mechanism is not a bad thing; it helps us survive and learn.
However, it can also dominate our experiences and distract us from being aware of what is really in front of us in the present moment. What is not even remotely threatening, can seem dangerous based on past memory. What seems like a promise of future pleasure, can turn into an empty illusion. Instead of being present to and aware of what is really around us and choosing to create joy and gratitude, we instead react to what our mind tells us is real and we entirely miss the opportunity of the moment, creating some feeling that is disconnected from the now. Eventually, life starts to feel out of our control and inauthentic.
Perhaps you’ve read or heard about the idea of Now Presence or Mindfulness*. On the surface, it sounds simple. The idea is to keep our awareness on the present moment, each moment, staying open and alert to what our senses and intuition can inform us about our inner and outer environments right now, free from the filtering interpretations of past memories and future speculations. The promising reward for developing this practice is a life of more positive emotional stability and feelings of gratitude and abundance. Is this the same as just pushing the thoughts and feelings out of our minds, like going into denial? Not at all. Keep reading.
As with most personal growth concepts, understanding the idea comes much easier than mastering the practice. Mindfulness is especially powerful for taking control of the quality of your life. It is what starts to separate those who experience ongoing suffering from those who create happiness.
More and more therapists and coaches are teaching mindfulness. Through mindfulness, we can begin to discern the difference between thoughts and feelings that stem from the past and those which arise naturally from the present. Learning to meditate helps. To learn to control our mind takes time, but allows us to practice “catching” our mind in the past or the future and bring our awareness back to the present.
Once back in the present, thoughts and feelings will still arise, however now, instead of letting them drive us into the past or future, we can remain present with them and allow them to inform us of their origins, while we remain present. By doing this, we begin the process of letting those past memories heal, release and transform. And when healed, they no longer invade our present awareness.
This is not easy to learn. It’s the stuff that made the legendary ancient mystery schools so exceptional. Few humans were experienced in mindfulness back then, but in our times, millions are ready. However, it still typically requires help.
You don’t have to be broken to get help. All of us need healing during the course of our lives. Being pro-active about this is preferable. Many of us hire therapists, not because we are “mentally ill”, but because some therapists know how to help us heal faster. A therapist who has healed herself and learned alternatives to traditional “talk therapy” can be an immense catalyst to healing and mindfulness. Such an experienced and intuitive therapist can be a guide through your scary and unfamiliar inner places, giving you empowering, practical tools that will last a lifetime.
As issues from the past begin to resolve, dissolve and transform, you will find it easier and easier to keep your mind in the present. And a good therapist will teach you how to use that freedom and the power to create more joy, gratitude and fulfillment.
This article was first published in Natures Pathways magazine in August, 2013.
* A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle are books that go extensively into this subject.