I was asked recently: “How do you stay so calm and in the present moment throughout all your health scares?” This inquiry came from a dear friend who is filled with future worries over a loved one who may have cancer. I include words like “future” and “may” on purpose. Because upon reflection, I realize that this is the key to my acceptance, and subsequent serenity.
I must keep my mind in the present moment at all times.
This is a mindful practice. And as the word “practice” implies, it takes concentrated effort to maintain. But with practice and time, it becomes more natural; like a form of breathing.
Breathing in the NOW.
Here are some steps I’ve taken to keep my mind, body and spirit in the here and now; neither fretting about the past nor worrying about the future…
SPIRITUALITY: The next question my friend asked was regarding to my spiritual health… “Is this what makes you so strong?” she wondered. I’ve thought a lot on this. My immediate response was to explain that although I am deeply spiritual today, it was not always this way; especially during the throes of my most severe illness. But, I was wrong. Although it is true that my spirituality has only grown over the years and I can now comfortably say I believe in a Higher Power, an Energy that is greater than myself, there was always a spiritual trust deep in my soul…
TRUST: A trust that everything would (and will) work out the way it is supposed to be. I can’t define what this is and nor should I (this is where I can get into trouble!). But I do have an unexplained knowing. And that “knowing” is the faith that I am going to die not on my time clock, but on the Universe’s. And although that may sound scary, it can actually be very freeing. Because once you let your mind release the worry of when you’re going to die, or get sick, or come upon hard times, you can focus on the HOW:
THE HOW: How am I going to live today to the fullest extent of my spirit? What steps am I going to take to: nurture my mind, body and spirit; reach out to others instead of isolate; strengthen my relationship with my spiritual base (whether it is God, Buddha, the Universe, or the trees); show myself all the love I deserve; and reach out to others in need?..
SERVICE: One of the best ways I have always found for getting outside of my own insular world of worry is to reach out to others. This certainly isn’t the first time you’ve heard me sing this song! Being of service to someone else (stranger or loved one) not only gets me out of my own head, it uplifts my soul, recharging my internal energy source, my Soul Beacon. And, let’s be completely honest here: there is always someone who has it tougher than you right now. It’s important to keep that perspective!
IN THE NOW: There are many techniques I use to keep my mind in the present… I will repeat the mantra “I have arrived” over and over while holding my hand on my heart. I will use a God Jar (you can name it anything you want); this is a container where I write down my worries and place them inside. Then when those worries resurface in my mind, I gently remind myself, “Oh, Tam! You already sent that to the universe/God; you don’t need to worry about that anymore. It’s taken care of.”
CONTINGENCY PLANS: Stop making them!!! I was master of this for so many years, and all it did was exhaust me! I would figure out all the “possible future outcomes” and then come up with (several) contingency plans for each scenario. But, you know what? 90% of the time my future would unfold completely different than anything I had “prepared” myself for. So I would still have to fly by the seat of my pants, in the moment; but my mind would be so fatigued from all the ruminations, I wouldn’t have the energy to successfully face what was in the here and now. Then, one day I just stopped! And, you know what? If I am doing all the above things to take care of myself on a daily basis, I can always find the tools to help me with whatever comes my way. And my life, my spirit, is much calmer because of it.
I realized all the anxiety I was feeling on a daily basis was self- created. I decided to get off my own Merry-Go-Round of Hell (cue Twilight Zone music…). You can, too!
STOP WAITING FOR THE OTHER SHOE TO DROP: I thought that if I was always waiting for something bad to happen, I wouldn’t be caught off guard (disappointed, disheartened) when it did. Yes, my life is constantly dropping shoes on my head! But, all that waiting did was create a stress-filled environment where I was inviting trouble. We attract what we expect! So, I started expecting differently. And because I stopped looking to the sky for these impending “bombs,” I am now able to recognize and celebrate all the calm days between the storms.
STOP ASKING “WHY ME?” AND START ASKING “WHAT NEXT?!:” Truly, there is no answer to the question “Why?” I can’t tell you how many times loving friends have lamented, “Why you? I just don’t understand why the nicest people get the hardest lives?” I don’t know either. But all this question does is create an environment of self-pity. And when I am stuck in self-pity mode, I can’t see all the amazing gifts that have come out of my illness. I’m not saying it’s all “unicorns and rainbows” here! But, I do know that in any situation, be it physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, inter-relational… the only question that serves me is: “What next?” What am I going to do with the hand that is dealt me? How am I going to make this Situation serve me? What skills do have to get through this? And who do I know that can help me?
Once I move beyond victim mode, into action mode, I am living in the present moment. AND, FOR ME, THAT’S THE ONLY PLACE I WANT TO BE!