We often here phrases like ‘live in the moment’ and ‘lean in’, but what do they really mean?
The common theme here is that being present means staying put in the face of difficult emotional experiences - not being consumed by shame and guilt of the past, living in our future worries, or simply distracting ourselves from the feelings. Doing any of these means we never really give ourselves a chance to learn to be with those feelings. In the end, the only sure fire way to maintain shame and anxiety is to keep avoiding them!
This famous phrase comes courtesy of Albert Ellis, a founder of cognitive approaches to therapy. Ask any counsellor, and there’s a good chance that they’ll say that the most common theme in counselling is how hard we can be on ourselves – driven by an ever-present nagging expectation that ‘we should know/do better’. Far too often we fall into the trap of equating disappointment with failure. Often the problem isn’t what we are or are not doing, but the gap between what we’re doing and what we expect of ourselves.
I have a self-described agnostic friend friend who says his version of a higher power is the simple phrase “I don’t know”, and I think there’s real wisdom in that. “I don’t know” creates space for uncertainty and ambiguity when we are faced with tough decisions and unexpected (but inevitable) challenges. “I don’t know” is an acknowledgement of our imperfection and insecurity, and allows us to be vulnerable and open to learning. “I don’t know” is a commitment to being patient and non-reactive, allowing answers to come when we’re ready to receive them.
My favourite Buddhist joke: “Don’t worry; everything’s out of control.”
And indeed, it can be easy to think that the promise of utter control and certainty would alleviate us of our stress. But in fact, it’s far more likely that the dubious quest for control and certainty is both a reflection and cause of stress and anxiety. Expect chaos and you may just find more control!