A fellow yoga teacher shared in his class theme recently that we don’t just think about what will happen in the future, but that we tell ourselves stories about those thoughts. These stories are emotional, non-rational, and truly unpredictable perceptions of what the case may be. They are “what if” scenarios that we end up living out and stressing over before they even happen. In an effort to plan for the future, it’s easy to over-plan and take into account all the possibilities, no matter how unlikely. Planning, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Making sure you will be holding an as-safe-as-possible babies’ birthday party is a smart choice, for instance. However, when the planning turns into anxiety and worry, it’s gone past the point of productive. So, how do we stop at a reasonable plan for the future and avoid going beyond and into planning for a dramatic interpretation of the future? First, we have to become aware of what we are doing.
Let’s do an exercise:
Find a comfortable seat (read our Relax post for tips on how to sit comfortably). Take a couple long deep breaths. Let your attention turn inward (close your eyes or take a soft gaze, relax the body, feel the breath moving through you). As the thoughts start flowing in, observe them. Do this for 5 to however many minutes. Take a full inhale, then exhale with a sigh. Bring the attention back to the breath and deepen it. Awaken the body with the newly activated breath. Then, slowly open the eyes and consider, or even write down, how many or which of your thoughts about the future you simply observed, and which you judged or created a story about.
A “story” in this case is something we tell ourselves about the future that is based on an emotional connection to it. (Very briefly, our “emotional connection” is a result of past experiences, upbringing, social influence, among other things. It is an attempt to relate to the future based on the past.) Perhaps you have an upcoming test and you add the story that “I will fail this test”; or you live in the same city as your ex that you’d gladly never see again if it were up to you and you create the possible scenario that you will run into that person; or you are participating in a Q & A and you dramatize the event by imagining it becoming an awkward or overwhelming experience. The story is the worry that you not only think about but put yourself through before the event has even occurred. The story is made-up, but it becomes your present reality. It puts unwarranted negativity into your body, heart, and mind. The future does not exist, so although making plans and setting intentions and goals are positive things, it is impossible to know what will happen during those plans, or in the time leading up to them. Our goal, then, is to identify when the influenced version of the future enters into our thought process. Upon identification, it is easier to step outside of the emotion and avoid the hardship that comes with it. We don’t have to run into our ex before we run into our ex. When and if it happens, we can react at that time. Until then, it is a nonissue that can highly affect our current well-being. Why let it?
Future thought does not always include negativity. Sometimes, we are excited about the future, imagining it holds the key to our happiness on some level. Although, a nice thought, it is also a tale influenced by the past, by emotion, and by expectation. It is valuable to try to see the story behind the positive thoughts too. Expectations take us out of the moment, whether good or bad. The future is not good or bad. Remember, it does not exist. Now is the only time we can know. As long as we are thinking in future tense, we are not filling ourselves with the truth that is happening now – our sensory experience, consciousness, breath, intuition, the energetic vibrations of each moment you are you. The Now is invaluable when planning for the future. Living in the present in and of itself prepares us for the future.
It will be a challenge to avoid the stories, but every story we identify and replace with a simple thought or observation is a moment that we get to live fully and honestly, a moment that we get to rid ourselves of a negative future prediction. Your path to living in the present may be different from mine, different from your closest friend’s. We will all choose one unique path to becoming conscious, or aware, in the present moment. That’s part of the beauty of living now – we get to enjoy exactly what is in front of us, and that’s different for every person. We all perceive the present differently. Here are a couple tips to becoming present:
1) Stop – Give yourself a little bit of space from what you are engaged in to pause. Remind yourself that it’s okay not to be doing in every moment. Efficiency is not lost by stopping, rather it is enhanced. Try to step into a state of observance, watching your thoughts, feelings, and bodily response as though they were words being typed out on a typewriter: “I am looking at a bird. That bird is blue…” You get the idea. This gives you the opportunity to look at what you are doing from another perspective, that of the Mind’s Eye, rather than the surface thinking brain.
1) Breathe – You can become aware of your breathing at anytime. If it’s a challenge, pause, sit, relax, and begin to feel your breath moving through your body. Deepen the inhales and exhales until you are filling up and emptying out your lungs with every breath. Notice the rhythm, sound, and feeling of the breath as you take this pause in your day. Once you get the hang of this exercise, you will be able to do this during a pause or during any activity you’re engaged in.
2) Sensory Perception – As with “Breathe”, you can do this anytime, but if you’re particularly overwhelmed by the moment, stop, relax, and reflect on the sights that surround you, the sounds and smells of the moment, how your body feels in the space you’re filling, the taste in your mouth. Pair this with the breath to enhance focus. Allow yourself to experience what you do from moment to moment, be it extravagant or simple.
*To clarify, this article is simply an effort to bring to light the reality of what is going on in your mind, not to prevent excitement or preparation, or planning for that matter, for your future.
Happy Right Now!