“Now is the only time there is.” ~A Course in Miracles
Last night, struggling to fall asleep as I so often do, I paid close attention to my thoughts. I noticed all of my thoughts were either about the past or the future.
I was either ruminating over things that had happened in the past, or spiraling about what could happen in the future. Recognizing this as a futile use of my mind, I reminded myself to “be here now.” (Thank you, Ram Dass.)
Lying in a dark room, unable to see much, there is truly nothing in the present moment to think about. So I began to empty my mind and focus on my breath. I noticed how my lungs fill and empty without my thinking about it. What a wonder our bodies are! I noticed how peaceful and relaxed I became as I emptied my mind of the past and future. If my mind started to drift, I came back to the simple thought, “Thank you, God.” Soon, I fell asleep.
Why is it so difficult to be in the present moment? Why do we constantly drift in our thoughts from the past to the future? What is this human tendency and has it always been there?
Perhaps we have always tended to worry. Plato, who died around 348 BC, once taught, “Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety.” Lao Tzu, who lived a century before Plato said, “To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” And Jesus taught, “Which of you, by being anxious, can add a single hour to your life?”
These great teachers could have never imagined the distractions we have today! It seems we are surrounded by a world that constantly distracts us from the present moment. Mastering the art of mindfulness, however, can create an oasis from our busy thoughts.
For survivors of trauma, it is easy to feel powerless to these thoughts. We empty our minds, only to have a unwanted memory flash into the peaceful space we are trying to hold onto. We clear our minds, try to sleep, but in the darkness we have anxiety about our safety, and the safety of those we love. How can we harness this wind?
First, we have to really want it. We have to want peace of mind above all else. We have to be willing to let go of the ball and chain we are dragging around.
Getting caught up in memories of the past or worrying about the future is a form of self-imposed suffering. ~ Ram Dass
With PTSD, we feel our suffering is not self-imposed. We didn’t ask for some of these memories we have. But the truth is, clinging to anything of the past, or fear of the future, keeps us in a prison of our own making. We must be willing to let it go, even if at first it’s just a few minutes a day. Being mindful and staying present is just like any muscle – we have to exercise it to make it stronger!
Second, find a mantra. Your mantra can be anything. Any reminder that will take you away from the painful past and the fearful future. It can be a favorite quote, a spiritual teaching, anything that brings your comfort. Memorize it and come back to it when your mind wanders. Say it with your breath. Regulate your breath. Think only of the words of the mantra and your breath. You will feel your body calm, your heart rate slow, and your mind will stop spiraling. It takes diligent practice. When it is challenging to hold onto your mindfulness, ask the Divine for help. When you really feel it, you will recognize it as such a wonderful tool in your toolbox, and a wonderful gift to yourself.
Let this be our new workout routine for the new year. And rather than focusing on weight loss, we focus on gaining Peace of Mind.
“It is extraordinary how near we are to our deeper being. It’s just a thought away.”
~ Ram Dass
You are Still Beloved