And Now...Back to this Moment

The other day, on a morning walk, I found myself already contemplating the day ahead, feeling the tonnage of responsibility and those life-sucking habitual thoughts that have no substance outside my mind. And then...the clouds thinned, and my eyes were drawn to a beam of light bursting through the overcast skies.  Suddenly, everything fell away. The sky and I alone existed, here and now. Nothing else was real.

What is real? My mind puts faith in the anxiety it generates. That anxiety pulls me away from the current place and time to fret and fantasize about what is not any more, not yet, and not here.

  • Not Any More: This is the land of guilt, wistfulness, and nostalgia. "If only I had...or had not...or s/he was still here".
  • Not Yet: Like a chess game, always looking three moves ahead. While a good strategy for a board game, life has many more variables. The attempt to control the flow of life stops the flow of joy and contentment in the current moment.
  • Not Here: I worry about other people, about other places, about global chaos, about political insanity, and soon I've drifted away into some phantom zone that is neither here nor there.

When I find myself pulled off into one of these places, the mind spins its intricate webs of projection, conjecture, negativity, self-punishment, etc. I often then try to fix, prevent, or control. Sometimes what I try to fix, prevent or control has nothing to do with what I'm thinking about. It's just a nervous response to mind chatter that I channel into whatever is in front of me.

The reliable cue that I'm caught in such a loop (as opposed to useful life review or planning or blissful daydreaming) is my body. Am I tense, am I drained, is my breathing shallow? Or am I open, breathing deeply and easily, and gently energized?

When I notice the clouds of anxiety enshroud me, what do I do? The anxiety is just a habit. There's usually no substance to it in this moment. So, with my next breath I exhale all thought and drop the story I've been repeating. I let myself feel the habitual, underlying anxiety that gave birth to this fictional yarn. I lean into it. Like bright light parting overcast skies, leaning into the fear dissipates it. Then I return my attention to this place, this moment.

So what to do with those nagging worries, that simply won't let me be? Sometimes a little cognitive restructuring also helps. Here's what I tell my mind that helps it relax:

As to what will happen, Life/God is already there.

As to what has already happened, Life/God is still there connecting you to that loved one. Or Life is connecting me so I can send compassion and forgiveness and healing back in time to old wounds.

As for that person/situation that is going on elsewhere, God/Life is there as well, acting as a conduit for good wishes and love. Some call this prayer. Others might think of it as the interconnectedness of everything.

And even those "could have been" or "if/only" thoughts can be transformed. Quantum physics suggests that any reality that could happen does happen in some dimension. That potential vocation, relationship, or move, or experience that I chose not to do in favor of another choice...all that could well be happening in some realm. So, I take a moment of vicarious satisfaction for that life that another version of me is living in another dimension...and then let it go with gratitude.

Perhaps some other me in another dimension is pining for the life I am living right here, right now.

Playfulness, Pace, and Presence

What do our dogs teach us? Can we learn new tricks from them? Our terriers, Flash and Cowboy, have started a new morning ritual. After breakfast and some free-range roaming in the backyard, they come into the sunroom and settle down together for a side-by-side morning coffee break…without the coffee. As I see them lying together, I become aware of their way of being in the world, which is becoming my mantra for how I want to be in the world:

  • Playfulness - Nothing brings them more joy than playing with their favorite toy: THE KONG. This indestructible rubber ball is both serious business and serious fun. How can I bring a sense of playfulness to those responsibilities that feel burdensome? How can I infuse my work with the fresh exuberance of a child or my dogs? My intention is to make all of my serious business bubble over with serious fun.
  • Pace - Our dogs move at the pace that is authentic for each of them. For Flash, our old Airedale, that pace is unhurried, like a sumo wrestler lumbering through a marathon. For Cowboy, our Fox Terrier, that pace is frenetic and hyper. Neither is right/wrong or better/worse. They move at the appropriate pace for their temperament. I have come to accept that my natural rhythm is closer to Flash's pace than Cowboy's. Yet, it seems like the world I live in wants me to move at Cowboy speed. I recommit myself to a pace that is authentic for me and own that without apology. The world is not best served when I fly at breakneck speed, multitask myself into a tizzy and feel the anxious weight of being constantly behind. The world needs me to be me: thoughtful and spacious, persistent and tranquil, forward moving yet with a sense of the deeper reality penetrating each moment. My intention is to own, accept, and celebrate my authentic pace.
  • Presence - Our dogs give no thought to yesterday or tomorrow. Only this moment has any meaning for them. Can I meet the inevitable interruptions and not-according-to-plan moments with compassionate attention and welcome rather than resistance, anger, and judgement? Can I focus on what is happening rather than what did or might happen? Can I be grateful for and open to what is, as it is? I intend to shift more and more of my attention to this present moment.

For our dogs, playfulness, pace and presence come naturally. For me, those traits require practice. Perhaps, some day, with more training, I will become as wise as they are.

Spiritual Direction in Healthcare

How can space be created for genuine human connection in a healthcare setting? What might self-care look like for caregivers? The December 2011 issue of Presence: an International Journal of Spiritual Direction explores these questions in an article my friend Hannah O'Donoghue and I co-wrote. Below is a PDF of the article. Please share your thoughts on the article and your own experiences with healthcare and as a caregiver.

Click here to download the article.