The Present Moment, Frankly, Sucks!
This post originally appeared on Aurorasa Entertainment, the "unprofessional" blog of Aurorasa Sima, Emotional Intelligence, Empowerment & Success coach. Some of you might remember her from her beBee days. She and I reconnected on LinkedIn recently and she asked me to do a guest blog for her.
Mindfulness teaches us to live in this present moment which is the only moment we have.
Unfortunately, what I was mostly mindful of this summer is how much this present moment really annoys the crap out of me!
We had a lot of rain in Toronto. The jet stream decided to summer over southern Ontario this year which led to a cooler, greyer season preceded by a boatload of rain in the spring that shut down our beaches until almost August. While Phoenix charbroiled and their airplanes melted on the tarmac, Toronto experienced occasional fall-like days in July and skies resembling an Ansel Adams photo.
Last year’s hot and dry summer was much more amenable for my lunchtime walks through the park and around the
‘hood. It was this time last year that I began practicing mindfulness and meditation and it was truly joyous to walk in the sun and warmth being all mindful and grateful to be alive. No matter how depressed or anxious or stressed I felt, at high noon I broke for the door like a house dog in an unattended moment and walked in a glorious mindful haze, leaving my worries behind in my old kit bag while the sun shined, shined, shined.
When this year’s cold, grey, rainy May turned into cold, grey, rainy June, and then mildewed into cold, grey, only slightly less rainy July, it was much harder to be mindful and happy. Any given present moment, quite frankly, SUCKED!!! I’d stride down the street in a flapping jacket and a resentful expression wondering when the hell I’d be able to leave the apartment without packing an umbrella and if I’d ever get to wear the new vintage cat’s-eye sunglasses I’d bought online. Six straight days of steel-grey sky? Et tu, July?
Never mind that Arizonans would have sold their grandmothers into servitude for just one day of rain and maybe a drop in temperature to, oh, let’s not be greedy here, shall we agree on 90F? Or 32C in Canadianese?
“We’ve had great weather here all summer,” said my brother in Michigan, and I made a mental note to cut him out of my will. Facebook threatened to de-friend me en masse if I didn’t stop whinging about Toronto the Grey.
It just goes to show how ridiculously deeply one can be in the grip of attachment when one loses one’s mind over something that should just be accepted, as it’s beyond the control of everyone except a clearly malign jet stream.
Equanimity is for wusses
The meditation term for accepting the present moment just as it is is called equanimity. It derives from an old Latin word meaning enlightened being who no longer pitches weather-related tantrums.
“Be mindful,” I reminded myself as I walked, but all I was mindful of was how grossly unfair it was that the entire continent of North America, according to the CBC weathercritters, was getting hot dry weather and Toronto was getting – October, right after Canada Day.
It’s too cold, it’s too grey, it’s too rainy, it’s too—it’s too—it’s too—” grumbled my dissatisfied brain which was mindful only of its relentless self-pity for ever having moved to Toronto where how whimsically cruel the weather gods were.
The Spring That Never Ended interrupted by occasional short bursts of summer was not living up to my exacting standards.
Equanimous I wasn’t, even though getting mad about the weather is like getting mad that oranges are orange or that dogs eat stupid crap that makes them sick if we don’t watch them. Weather and oranges and dogs just are.
So should I have been, but the world just wasn’t cooperating.
We all do this. We look to external elements to make us happy, and they usually cooperate about as much as the weather.
My partner, that promotion, someone else’s approval, the new car, the elusive number on the scale—and I can’t be happy unless the weather is warm and sunny enough because dammit, I’m entitled!
(Why I feel so entitled to great weather, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it’s not because I’m white.)
Then I reflect on other peoples’ present moment, at that present moment, elsewhere, somewhere that’s not here, that is filled with far more fear, hunger, pain, misery, and hopelessness than mine. Just to keep things in perspective. And because even I get tired of my whinging.
So how do you get all mindful and stuff?
Being mindful and ‘in the moment’ isn’t easy at first, or ever. Your untrained brain is scattered. It’s like going to the gym. You don’t start powerlifting barbells the size of construction girders after a couple of days. Your brain needs practice, and without judgment. It will go off on tangents, because that’s what brains do.
You can be mindful while washing the dishes, putting the kids to bed, taking a walk. Or, you can sit and meditate, maybe five or ten minutes at a time. Sometimes you have to think about the future (plan things) or consider the past (memories), but if your future thinking is worrying, and your past thinking is rubbing salt into old psychic wounds, then these are pointless, unhelpful thought patterns. Focus on something more useful – like the present moment.
(Unless it’s raining and you’re a spoiled First World brat.)
Change doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a year, but it does get easier. People are afraid of it, at first, because the brain doesn’t give up easily, and it distracts you tossing up things from the past, or things you have to do. But with practice, and patience with yourself, you will find yourself less stressed or afraid to be alone with your somewhat less busyness-addled brain. The negative thoughts don’t cycle as much, you’re not afraid of what your brain tosses up. You don’t want to fill your downtime with pointless activities like shopping, Netflix or Facebook. I find I walk without my iPod more than I did before. I walk and be mindful and when I get back an hour later, I feel ready to face the world again.
Oh, cut the crap and get to the point!
Geez, all right! Get present moment-y, like, right now! Just two things:
- Learn about the mind and how it works, emotional intelligence, how to manage your emotions, how to look at the world differently. Books, videos, websites, podcasts. It’s fascinating stuff! You’ll be relieved to find out you’re not a headcase, that everyone else is exactly like you. Although maybe we’re all headcases!
- Just practice being. It’s difficult at first because your mind isn’t used to it but be patient. Try to devote at least ten minutes a day – you can find many guided meditations on the Internet if you don’t want to give your brain free reign. Check out local meditation groups. Sit. Focus on your breath or the breeze or the sound of your fridge.
Take some time, feed your spirit, and as the great cow guru Beefpak Chopra used to say, remember to stop and eat the roses. (Although maybe it was a Gary Larson cartoon.)
Live in the present moment! Enjoy the day! And wear your cat’s-eye vintage sunglasses!
(Oh, and don’t eat crap off the sidewalk.)
Nicole Chardenet flogs fintech sales enablement software and interactive videos and freelance writes on the side when she’s not being all mindful and equanimous and stuff. Sure, she looks happy here but that’s because summer finally arrived around mid-August in Toronto. Darwin only knows what she’ll be like in November.
Like all of us she’s a work-in-progress. And just for the record, it’s now early October where it’s STILL summer in Toronto. No lie. But she’s not looking a gift humidex in the mouth.