Each day when we wake up we have before us a clean slate, the ability to start anew, so much potent possibility abundant, but all too often we quickly lose our way suffering over something in our past or worrying about something in our future. It cannot be said often enough … yesterday and all the yesterdays before that are gone, and tomorrow isn’t here, and staying in the present moment, in this one day, and making it the very best we possibly can, going moment by moment by moment, can absolutely transform the life that will come on future days, but today that is not our business. The world could end at midnight tonight. Would you like to think you spent your last day on earth living in the past or in the days that now would never come? And the thing is the future doesn’t ever really come, only the present comes, over and over and over again, and what I have learned is that it was never the things I dreaded the most that I had trouble handling, and if I live and love and learn fully in each day all that there is possible to embrace, to revel in, to explore, to enjoy, everything that comes after that is transformed into something it could never have been if I had not remained present, right here, right now.
Students frequently ask something along these lines — “Well, that is all well and good, and maybe I can stay present today and not worry so much about tomorrow, but I had ___________ happen to me in the past and it was very painful and I don’t know if I can ever get over it. It makes me ___________ now…”
I understand the despair, the confusion, the heartache. I have been there, and until the end of my life I will be dealing with the effects of what happened to me in my childhood because it played a significant role in who I am today and that just can’t be washed away like erasing a chalkboard, but it also needn’t be the albatross you carry around your neck forever.
It is true, I am 59 years old with decades of therapy under my belt. When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s I was in terrible shape going through very extensive therapy that left me so shattered I was suicidal, in fact more often than anyone around me knew. You have to do the work to get past the past. If I had known then what I know now it would have been a little easier for me, but it still would have been a terribly long and painful process. What I would like to say to that is twofold.
First of all there is no way to get around doing the work that you need to do to work past painful and troubling times. The second thing is that there is no reason to carry those painful and troubling times around with you forever.
If, in the middle of going through a very difficult therapeutic process, you could be helped, as often as possible, to come back to the present moment and separate it out, like cracking open an egg and putting it in a separator that separates the egg white from the yolk you would see that there are 2 distinct parts of the egg. So, too, our lives. We have our past, and we may need to do healing work to transcend that which may have happened there, but we have the present in which we are safe, we are loved, we are no longer in the past circumstances, we are sitting right here, right now. You go into the past to do the work to heal it, but you keep coming back to the present moment to remind yourself that while that past did in fact exist, and there may be a lifetime of work ahead of you, you are always okay, right here, right now, in the present moment.
For me after decades of therapy there was just nothing more to talk about. I really liked talk therapy, it helped me a lot, and I didn’t really want to stop it, but a big part of that was dependence on a therapist that I loved, who had helped me tremendously, she felt like my safety net and I wasn’t sure I could go on without her. She was, however, closing her practice, she would not be there anymore, and she referred me to another psychiatrist that was a lovely woman but I only went for 15-30 minute sessions that were mainly for addressing my meds and seeing if they needed to be adjusted. Still if something pressing came up I could spend a little time talking to her briefly but there would never again be the full hour of talking to someone on a weekly basis that I was used to. Then she and her family moved out of the country and again I was bereft. Now I see a psychiatric nurse practitioner every 3 months for a brief visit to do a med check, and it is enough. There is a psychiatrist in the office if there was a true emergency but I don’t see needing that. Again, I am 59 and I have done a lot of work to get here, we are all at different stages, but now I am in a very different place.
During the transition from full time talk therapy, to part time sessions, to no talk therapy at all I discovered something. Once I disengaged from the hour long therapy, which I may never have done had I not had to, I was able to go to brief sessions and then to none because what had happened was that I came to the realization that the past was as “fixed” as it was ever going to get. Nothing could undo it, nor did I need to live in it. What I have to do now, and will have to do for the rest of my life, is deal with the issues that I have today. I have 4 mental health diagnoses and some are as a result of the abuse and some are very likely genetic. Though adopted I was able to get some history in my 20’s. My biological mother had been an alcoholic, suicidal, suffered from depression, and from the sound of it could have been bi polar. I may have been a ticking time bomb of genetic coding and the abuse lit the fuse. But the thing is no matter what, the nature vs. nurture argument doesn’t really matter. I am who I am today with a certain set of circumstances that I live with and my only job is to take care of myself the very best that I can. Today, tomorrow when it comes, and so on. But for me there is only, always, the present moment.
I do fall away, I do become afraid, or anxious, but the thing is that I have been practicing mindfulness for so long now it doesn’t take long for me to pull myself back, and when I am going through a bad bi polar time that may be hours or days long mindfulness helps me to hang on, and not capsize, in stormy seas. Just knowing that I have my practice to return to again and again is such a gift because it’s not whether or not I will have hard days, the thing is to know that there is always a life boat attached to the side of the ship.
Today I have turned a corner. In recent times I have moved past the worst of the hard times, at least for now, and I do believe it is because I do not have that amorphous blob of fear hanging over my head, the “Oh my God, what if…” “What will I do?” Well, the what ifs will come, what we do is keep coming back to our practice and know that this too shall pass. Because it will. Because it always does. This is the terra firma that will hold us up, it is the place that we can plant seeds for a whole new life. We can’t control the weather patterns, but the garden will keep on growing, in some form or fashion.
I am building a new life now. It is one that I never imagined could be possible for me. I am not worrying about what will happen 6 months from now or 1 year from now, I am working on today, and it feels good, and I am now, in my life, like the gardener that I am in my real garden. I plant the seeds in spring with absolute faith that they will grow. I never know exactly how, or if things will take a slightly different shape than I have imagined, but each spring I plant thousands of seeds and have glorious gardens all over my acre, and I am still putting in the last of the fall bulbs that I got on a late season sale. They will bloom in the spring as I am planting seeds and the cycles and seasons in the garden keep rolling along. Something is always blooming.
While you are looking in seed catalogs and deciding what you want to plant for the new life ahead remember the saying that would now be trite were it not so dear and true. Bloom where you’re planted. And so I am, and so can you. What beautiful gardens we will have some day, but oh, I love the little seeds in my hand in this very moment, right now..