Be Where You Are 1/14/10

Be where you are.

That is a mantra I think I should repeat a bit more often. I was participating in a conversation last night in which I realized I had let my brain run away after I had been able to keep it with my body most of the time for the past few months.

My mind has never been very good at being present. I frequently engineer a mental escape from my current situation, obsessing over the implications of X, Y, and Z potential events. It seems that it could stem from thoughts in my early life:
  • When I am an adult, I'll be allowed to paint my nails.
  • When I have a job, I'll be able to buy clothes.
  • When I graduate, I'll be able to start over.
  • When I move, I won't have to drive in snow.
  • etc.
I rarely found the present moment as enjoyable as my fantasies about the future. And as the chronic worrier I was, with it came creeping in the fears I had about it:
  • What if I fail out of school?
  • What if I die in an earthquake? 
  • What if I get fired?
  • What if I never get married or have children and am survived only by the lucky few of my fifty cats who didn't die in the aforementioned earthquake?
  • etc.
I think this is a lame way to go about life. Why was I spending so much time thinking about a period that didn't matter yet, when good or bad things might or might not happen, with people I might or might not know? IT MAKES NO SENSE.

In recent months (not even for a year!), however, my current situation managed to mesh with my fantasies. I felt like I was living the dream and really enjoying myself, taking things as they came and allowing the tide of the universe to pull my little boat gently along. I'm not sure how I did it:
I made several big changes in my life, professionally, personally, romantically. Maybe constant change in some small form or another is something I need.
I felt my age and allowed it to frame my perspective.
I accepted, in light of my life experience up to now, that nothing would go how I planned it, so why detail my future if I would be disappointed?
I decided life was about having the best time I can while doing minimal harm to anyone else. Is this true? I do not know, but it felt good, like I had a direction (albeit directionless).

It doesn't matter that I fell off that boat. Most of those feelings and thoughts still resonate with me, so how do I get back on it? Totally abandoning all thoughts of the future is not my goal. My goal is to have a flexible plan for my life in mind without getting so caught up in its details that my present seems trivial and aimless.

To help:

1. Map out the possibilities. A friend of mine suggested that I consider every possibility for my future that I can think of, and go through all the scenarios. In the end, I would realize (we hope) that no matter what happened in any part of my life, I would be okay. Sounds exhausting, but worth a shot.

2. OR just skip the mapping and work on self-acceptance. I am okay and will be okay in the future, no matter what happens.

3. Don't hate; appreciate. The moment is so much easier to enjoy if you are grateful for what is around you at that moment. It's easy for me to lose sight of beautiful things when it is cold and overcast and rainy as it has been in San Francisco for the past month or so. But when I make a practice out of noticing, say, the awesome view at that one intersection my morning bus takes me through, the yumminess of my orange juice, and how warm my blanket keeps me at night, my world gets an upgrade from so-so to awesome.

4. Focus. If I catch my brain careening into the future again, I pledge to make a good-faith effort to rein it back in. The occasional thought is fine, but when my mind has definitely disconnected from my body, I'll try to remember to be where I am.

I have a tendency to get lost in the past sometimes, too, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here. How do you stay present?


  1. I wonder if you've heard of mindfulness of breathing meditation? Basically you sit in a relaxed position somewhere free from distractions and focus on the sensations of breathing. As soon as you notice your mind wander (which it will, because it always does) just notice it (no need to be upset) and bring the focus back to breathing. You can google "mindfulness of breathing meditation" for more variations but that's the basic gist. I took a class on it in undergrad, and it's not for everyone (me), but if you start to do it every day for 20 minutes or so (or on a semi-regular basis) it does help focus your mind, and it gives you that practice of getting right back into the present moment, because you're concentrating on focusing on the sensations at hand. Hope you find this interesting and/or helpful. :)

  2. I had not heard of that. It certainly sounds like it's worth a shot. Thanks!


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