5 Ways To Be In The Moment When Being Present Isn’t Easy

I’m not blaming anyone. It’s part of our current feel good culture to try to find a remedy for whatever is ailing us. It’s just so hard during this pandemic when ALL of us are somewhat depressed, somewhat anxious and somewhat needing really badly to get away from it all. Everyone is trying really hard to say all you need to do is “Be in the moment” and you will get the relief you are looking for.

I’m so sorry.
I don’t believe it.
I think it’s a bunch of hogwash!

First of all, being in the moment in the real Buddhist sense doesn’t mean finding something to feel good about right now. No. It means if you are miserable, be in misery. Don’t run away from it, numb it or drown it. Stay with that nasty feeling, whether it’s an itch on your nose during meditation with the Dalai Lama or the deep pain of a break up. Stay with whatever the feeling is In. The. Moment.

We westerners are not built that way. We are champion avoiders of bad feelings. We insist that if something bad happened we’re Over It! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with people who are in grief over a significant loss. They come to me because, they say, they are depressed and their family has suggested they “talk to someone”. How many times is “please go talk to someone” code for “I can’t deal with whatever you’re struggling with anymore. You’ve got to go away and bother someone else.”

So the person is in my office and right away I can see they aren’t depressed. They are fucking grieving. The loss may have happened a month ago or a year ago, doesn’t matter because grief does not live in time. Grief lives in this organic ocean that has tides and waves, sometimes gentle, sometimes tsunamis. Like the ocean, it doesn’t go away, it always is. It’s just that sometimes you can reside with grief quietly and sometimes it makes its presence known in the most cruel manner, like a slap in the face.

I feel so badly for anyone who has suffered devastating loss and feels they are letting people close to them down because they don’t feel permission to be in their moment. That’s because for them this moment is a black hole of misery which makes other people uncomfortable. Well that’s too bad isn’t it? Just too damn bad.

Being In The Moment May Not Be Pleasant

To be in the moment we are best served by understanding that what is happening in the moment may not be pleasant. I mean, it could be, and that’s nice, but isn’t always. There isn’t a day during this pandemic time that I haven’t felt some degree of unhappy. What am I supposed to do with that? According to my Facebook feed, I should do some yoga, make myself a cup of soothing tea and reflect on everything I’m grateful for. Ugh.

Yes, when it’s doled out this way, I am the Ebenezer Scrooge of “be in the moment”. It feels like what is being promoted in all those FB posts and Instagram memes is honey-coated and superficial. I should take it and enjoy the sugar high. So what if a minute later I’m still hurting because I can’t hang out in the halls of my office and run into my work buddies that I miss so much it aches. I want to cry because I can’t give them a hug, be in a room with them and ask how the kids are.

I know, with Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams and whatever your tele-commute platform of choice is, you can still ask how the kids are, but you get it don’t you?

Sometimes The Moment Just Hurts

Why am I pushing being in the moment when the moment just hurts? Because that is exactly how we grow, we thrive. So why don’t we do it? Brene Brown, said something about being aware of when you avoid uncomfortable feelings or thoughts by anesthetizing them. She calls it “numbing”. There are the obvious ways to numb so-called bad feelings, like with substance abuse (liquor stores are doing great during these pandemic days!). But we can also bury our pain with binge watching Criminal Minds or even become a workaholic if we aren’t careful. Humans can get very creative when it comes to avoidance of whatever reality is uncomfortable right now.

Sticking with the pain, giving it your full attention for a minute without running away, that is the real challenge of being in the moment.

Here’s an example… I’m really uncomfortable that I haven’t contacted my friend who I know is going through a hard time. I haven’t contacted them in MONTHS! I am filled with shame when I land on that thought so I do my best to run away from it. What if I stayed with that feeling? What if I asked myself why do I avoid calling a person who is one of the sweetest people on the planet? What if I came to the realization that I am a flawed, imperfect creature that hopes for forgiveness but is filled with fear that forgiveness won’t come? Ouch.

There is Value in Being in the Moment

It takes courage to be in the moment when that moment could hurt. Do we stay with that pain forever? How long is long enough? How long is too long? You will know. When you are truly trying to be with the negative emotion you will see that it’s a lot like surfing, a metaphor used by yogis for this very thing. Stay on your board and surf with the wave of discomfort until it peters out. Most of the time it will. If it keeps getting worse, and it appears to have no end, then it may be time to reach out for back up, like a good therapist.

There is value in being in the moment in different ways, from lots of different directions. Being in the moment is not binary! There’s no one way of doing it or experiencing it. I guess that’s my point. I lose patience with those who preach being in the moment as if it’s always a pleasant thing. It’s not and that’s OK.

It’s hard to ask ourselves, ‘What do I need right now?’ as opposed to ‘What do I want right now?’ Each question is important and each has its time and place. As the great Rolling Stones said, sometimes we don’t get what we want, but when we are brave enough, we may get what we need.

5 Ways To Be In The Moment When Being Present Isn’t Easy

5 Ways To Be In The Moment
When Being Present Isn’t Easy

1. Focus on Your Senses

Sometimes what I need to do is get out of my head and back into the world through the gateway of my senses.

It takes a lot of energy to break out of the gravitational pull of work when our work is literally where we live. I need to stop, stand up, stretch, and ask myself what my senses are telling me right now. It can take a minute no longer. The kids and the dog can wait a goddamn minute while you do this. Go to a window or better yet go outside and look at the far away. What do you see? Close your eyes? What do you hear? Touch something rough, soft, warm, cold, damp, dry. Feel the clothes on your back, your hair on the edges of your face. Focus on tastes, smells, (which if you can’t, call your doctor STAT).

2. Remember to Move & Stretch

Sometimes I need to be in my body, feel it move, walk around the neighborhood, dance with abandon, stretch my arms up from the yoga mat or desk chair. Hugging another being, my child, my dog, myself, actually releases neurotransmitters like oxytocin, that help us relax enough to be in the moment. This is being in the present through being embodied, acknowledging that we are more than our monkey brains. It’s good to remember that we are both mind and body.

5 Ways To Be In The Moment When Being Present Isn’t Easy

3. Be Aware

Sometimes I need to breathe. In, out, in, out. Not slowly or deeply as much as with awareness. I breathe therefore I am alive. I am alive therefore there is goodness and hope. This is especially effective at three in the morning.

4. Get Out of Your Own Head

Sometimes being in the present is reaching out to a person not you. When your spouse or your child is talking with you, can you repeat what they just said, or is the last email you wrote taking up too much space in your head for that kind of mindfulness?

5. Sit With It

And sometimes being in the present means just plain tolerating the uncomfortable. Stay still, sit down, and invite the present to bubble up.

Then you can ask yourself, what is this pain trying to teach me? Stay with it long enough to hear what the lesson might be. Don’t be surprised if the lesson is simply, ‘Do more of this’. Learn that the discomfort won’t kill you. Because you sit with it for a time once in a while, you will probably experience the tension ease off. The grace that comes with that simple effort is better than a warm bath.

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Elvira G. Aletta, PhD.

Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D. is a wife, mom to two adults and one horse, psychologist and writer who lives in Western New York where it’s cool to wear a cape and tall boots every day.

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