Staying in the moment, even if it feels scary
Written on April 19, 2014 by Dr. Laurie
“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” ~ Nelson Mandela
I have this quote hanging on the wall of my office, and I think about it when I hear my clients making courageous and hard choices.
Today, a client who has worked on her life for quite a while, told me about several incredibly difficult circumstances she was dealing with in her personal and professional life, all at the same time. It was almost too much to take in.
“I don’t think I want much more from you today than empathy,” she said as we began. But as we talked, I realized she was living in a new way.
“You aren’t running those endless negative scenarios of “what if..” That’s a remarkable change,” I said.
“I know. I’m staying in the moment, even if that feels scary. I find I am believing that as I see a positive outcome to all this mess, I can hold that intention. It’s quite different than envisioning all the awful things that might happen, “ she laughed.
She was choosing to imagine a hopeful series of outcomes. The power of that choice meant that she came to our session calmer, and more in charge.
I reminded her that she has been practicing this for quite some time, even in the face of health scares, and work challenges.
“Oh yes, “ she responded. “I know it’s good to spend a little time thinking of “what if”, and making a Plan B to have in my back pocket. But I don’t want to live there – I try to go back to the present, and see a good result.”
My client is focusing on her hopes for what can be, not her fears of what might be. It is a choice.
Attending to our hopes invites our better self to the table. We get to listen to what that hopeful self wants, and we don’t have to react out of fear.
Reactivity is strong and automatic when we are threatened or feel afraid. In order to stay calm enough to respond with our best self, we need to find ways to develop the part of our selves that can soothe our distress. That part is known as the parasympathetic nervous system.
In his book, Buddha’s Brain , Rick Hanson writes about several techniques that can help us lower our stress and soothe ourselves when we are upset. Then we can turn to hope instead of fear.
There are a number of tools he suggests, and he begins with this meta practice:
-Relax. Yes, that can be a counter productive suggestion when you are upset, but when you practice before a stressful situation sets you off, you are more able to relax on command. In order to relax:
–Scan your body and notice any tense areas – eyes, tongue, hands, feet, shoulders, etc. Take a moment and encourage the tension to drain out of that part of your body. You can even gently say “relax” to yourself, as an encouragement, not a command! Begin to practice taking a time during the day to scan, and then soften your body until it becomes a habit.
–Breathe focusing on your diaphragm. Put your hand on your abdomen a little below your rib cage. Watch your body expel air, and then pull air in. Use a big exhalation, and then a soft inhalation, and watch your abdomen move in rhythm. You will find yourself relaxing!
–Imagine a peaceful and beautiful place. See yourself there. Allow the scenery to soothe and hold you.
After practicing these simple habits, you will find yourself more able to let go of tension, even in a challenging time.
Now you have created room in your nervous system, and in your life for some ease, and some positive actions. You are more able to let your deep hopes guide your thoughts and your choices.
As always, let me know how it goes!