I hit a depressive wall recently. In my quest to feel better, I sought tips on how to get rid of negative energy. I deduced that it must be the “energy” in and around my home, some kind of invisible enemy trying to break my spirit with a barrage of damnation. Call it metaphysical, or spiritual, or witch-lady superstition, but my solution was to buy a smudge of white sage and burn it throughout my home, corner to corner in the required clockwise motion, leaving my house smelling like a Phillip Morris conference room. If clearing the bad juju this way was good enough for the indigenous people of the land I now occupy, it’s good enough for me. Then, in order to “break up the negative energy patterns and allow them to disperse,” I grabbed my metal wind chime bells hanging outside and rang them as I walked the perimeter of my yard, speaking out loud telling the negative energy, “You are not welcome here.” I’m not sure if it actually made a difference, but I am sure I alarmed my neighbors.
While I make no apologies for the tried and true practices of our ancient elders, the truth is that in our modern world of screen time and lack of connection with nature, if we want to find the light in our dark, it resides in our own minds and requires more work and practice than sage and bells – or constant diagnosis and prescribed medication. It is when we stop fixating on the past and stop fretting about the future that we begin to experience the gratitude of living in the moment, which is exactly where our happiness is, sitting there all peaceful and present, legs crossed, eyes closed, mouth turned up in a contented smile, just waiting for us to stop being stupid.
I realize that the concept of learning to live in the moment is counter-culture because we are more conditioned to look outside ourselves rather than inside ourselves. It can sound just as out-of-touch as burning sage and ringing bells. The truth, however, is exactly the opposite. Living in the moment is precisely what gets us in touch, with ourselves and with others. It is what fills us with compassion, which in turn replaces anger, frustration, and stagnation, of which I am the reigning queen.
I am not an authority on zen and am most certainly not an expert at “letting go of anger.” Anger is, in fact, my default setting. I can go from zen to anger at neck breaking speed. I’ve spent more time down in the dumps lately than I have floating on cloud nine. I have been weighted down by the news. The intensely putrid, hateful comments on social media. The polarization. The division. The violation of human rights, human dignity, human decency. The senseless violence. The tragic deaths. The natural disasters. The families in ruin. The arguments about problems and solutions. The know-it-all shouting rather than the introspective listening. If I see one more headline about another mass shooting, or another mind-boggling disappointment from our current world leaders, I might just have to off myself for relief.
This is the kind of “down” that begins to permeate our daily lives without us realizing it. It makes everyday tasks seem monumentally difficult to achieve and alcohol consumption seem justified well before it being 5-o-clock somewhere. Getting dressed. Showering. Parenting. Spousing. Friending. Co-workering. I, too, have dreaded each task, each morning, each day ahead, each social encounter. I’ve dreaded engaging on the most basic of levels, any unexpected phone call, any friendly text message, any social media post. The energy it takes to “avoid” it all is sapping and isolating. It races my heart. It drowns me in anxiety with each step into the pit of expectation and judgement.
The heaviness from it all wipes my memory clean of living in the moment, assigning my factory settings back to their default angry and depressed state. The negative in the air begins to tell me I’ve failed. That I will always fail. That something is wrong with me. I berate myself for being bad at everything. A bad mom. A bad wife. A bad friend. A bad writer. A bad professional. It might start with a rejection letter from a job I applied for, or from a publisher I submitted my writing to. It might start when I fixate on a moment I didn’t say the right thing, or very specifically said the wrong thing. A moment where I verbalized my real opinion and rendered myself vulnerable and exposed. Before long, everything is wrong, nothing fits, where I live, what my options are, having any way up and out. It spirals from there, into a dark and desolate place. A place where there is no air. A place that cloaks all beauty and joy in punishing heavy mud that can only be fragmented and shoveled with all my strength in what seems like an exhausting eternity to reach the light again. Sometimes it’s easier to stay suffocated and covered, in the dark and alone, missing all my moments.
For people like you and me, living with this heaviness is like having a porous spiritual sponge for a heart that absorbs only negativity and oozes with black remnants of light and air, dead remnants of goodness and self-worth. It begins to manifest in outward anger, towards others, towards ourselves. That is the hate you see online, the arguing you see in the media, the road rage, the family disputes, the feeling of being stuck, defensive, impatient, unwilling to bend or listen.
This is what happens when we get out of harmony, and friends, we are so collectively out of harmony right now. There is no external harmony, no internal harmony, as individuals and as a cultural, global whole, when so much negativity is all that is absorbed. There is no sense of connectedness. There is only right and wrong, us and them, before and after. There is no living in the moment. It pits spouse against spouse. Parent against child. Friend against friend. Human against human.
We must make every effort to be in the moment with just as much importance as the first meal of the day and regular exercise in order to combat – and change – the negativity. Without pausing to be in the moment, we are giving them away, never to be seen or experienced differently again. Without being present, we are sick, we are tired.
With so much negativity surrounding our head space, our physical space, our social space, it’s like standing in quick sand, slowly being pushed into granular despair, disappearing into the bottomless depths of yesterday and tomorrow, of anger and defensiveness, of being attacked and counter attacking, when what is really happening now, in this moment without you acknowledging it, is you are sinking. You are actively, willingly, disappearing, now. The world is happening to you, you are not happening to the world. What could be more urgent?
Living in the moment means acknowledging and accepting the pain and suffering you feel.
Allowing your pain and suffering to be present in your moment, accepting that it exists, and fully feeling it instead of pushing it away, is the measure of courage. It is what helps you recognize where your reactions are coming from, and gives you permission to let it go. In that pain is wisdom, a life lesson you would not have learned and grown from without it. On the other side of that pain is joy, a joy you wouldn’t appreciate without the pain having been there.
Living in the moment means noticing the colors and shapes of the setting sun, no matter what else is going on around you.
You will know you are living in the moment because you will feel it. It will feel like an undeniable gratitude for how much your child has matured when you stop to play for just a few minutes, for the warmth of the sun on your arm resting on the window as you drive down the street in a vehicle you are grateful to have. It isn’t what you expect. You don’t suddenly just “feel grateful” for your health or your shelter or the food on your table or the loves in your life. In the mundane moments of your daily life is where, if you take that simple moment to notice, your happiness lives.
Living in the moment means hitting the pause button before you speak or react long enough to notice where the emotion is coming from.
Is that stranger really angry at you personally, which in turn causes you to react in equal retaliating anger, or are they struggling with pain, disappointment and failure in their own life? Are you? You are not in the moment when you are anguishing about moments to come or agonizing about moments past. You are not in the moment when you spend it attempting to prove everyone wrong that disagrees with you, or internalizing everything that is unjust.
When you are gone, will it be worth it – the fight to be right? Hit pause. Be in your moment to look within, instead of out.
Being in the moment is to center yourself in conscious connection with what surrounds you.
That drink of comforting morning coffee you taste is a moment. You can connect to that sensation as it’s happening, out of which naturally comes gratefulness. Right now, I hear my daughter and husband listening to music and laughing in another room on a carefree Saturday night. If I close my eyes and listen in my own silence, my heart thoughtlessly fills with gratefulness. That wind blowing the leaves across the grass is a moment. When you notice it happening, it becomes beautiful, allowing more room for compassion. That delicate wisp of your child’s hair over her eyes as she does her homework is a moment. You can connect to that depth of love, which you would have missed if you weren’t present in the moment to notice. The gentle corner of your spouse’s smile as he chops vegetables is a moment, which allows more appreciation and fullness of love and acceptance, rather than resentment or frustration. A conscious deep breath in and a slow breath out is a moment. You can make a choice to connect to that purposeful state of well-being, which provides more kindness for you to give yourself and others.
These are all examples of moments we want to absorb. We need them, a lot of them, in order to change our default settings to gratitude and compassion rather than anger and depression. We can’t stack up these moments when we aren’t paying attention to them in the bustle of our angst and struggle. These precious moments don’t come easy under the load of such weight. We have to choose to be connected to them. We have to practice living in them.
What are you noticing in your moment? This moment? Now? Look for it. Pay attention. It is where your happiness is patiently waiting for you to stop being stupid.
Or at the very least, burn some goddam sage and ring some goddam bells. We need all the help we can get.