Work Life has chosen the theme “Wholehearted Living” for Employee Health and Fitness month. In her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection”, Brene Brown sets down 10 guideposts for Wholehearted Living. They are all relevant and timely for me, but ultimately I decided to choose one to focus on during the month of May:
#5: Letting go of the need for certainty. For me, the need for certainty is fueled by my anxiety about future events. Otherwise known as “anticipatory anxiety”: a negative projection or belief (often unfounded) about an unknown outcome.
As a human, I spend a great deal of time thinking/worrying about the future. I think I try to manage the future by scheduling and over thinking. It is fair to say that I have been described as a tiny bit of a control freak (although I would argue that I just like to plan ahead!). For our extended family vacations, my siblings have given up on trying to contribute, because they know that I will just go ahead and make all of the plans (because that way I get to pick everything and make sure it’s right!)
Many of you know that I have an 18 year old son who will be heading off to Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!) to study engineering this Fall. This has set off what I can only describe as an emotional firestorm: exhilaration about his success, mixed with terror about what the future might hold for him (he has always been a very confident and adventurous child, which has led to some ‘interesting’ situations – sometimes involving pyrotechnics) and more than a dash of grieving as I count down the days until he leaves. “What if”. “Will he remember”, and “will he be ok” are on a continuous loop in my head more often than I would care to admit.
It has occurred to me that one way to let go of the need for certainty is to try and stay present. As a clinician, I am aware that anticipatory anxiety, and this need for certainty, creates a cycle of escalation: (some call it “monkey brain”) the more I feel anxious, the more I try to plan and over schedule, which makes me more anxious, etc. – you know the deal. The more distracted I am about the future, the less I am able to be present in the moment.
When I am able to stay in the present and focus on one thing at a time, without fail I am left feeling more calm. There is no magic in it, nothing is solved, but I feel a little less frantic. I am no expert, but I will share a few things that I am doing that feel helpful:
When I pack my son’s lunch, I have started to write notes again, which I haven’t done since elementary school. I know he thinks it is silly, and it is, but that is ok. Taking that moment to write the note makes me happy. I also make him hug me at least once a day (I assure you, he is thrilled)
I try to remind myself several times a day that I can’t predict anything, and when I find myself starting to think/plan/obsess about the future, I try to stop, close my eyes, and take a deep breath.
Spending time with my dog, Keiko. She demands so much attention, that when I am with her it is almost impossible not to be present! There are abundant studies that indicate the ways that pets improve health, so I am making a conscious effort to take her for a walk each day. During my walk, I am trying to stay off my phone and enjoy being outside (I haven’t been able to actually leave the phone at home, but I am working on it!)
Calling my daughter and grandbabies and visiting as frequently as I can. I think when I am with Wesley (3) and Hannah (18 mos) it is easiest to be present. They live in Houston, so I can’t be with them as often as I’d like, so I work really hard to enjoy each moment with them. Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite authors, writes: “The concentration of a small child at play is analogous to the concentration of the artist of any discipline. In real play, which is real concentration, the child is not only outside time, he is outside himself. He has thrown himself completely into whatever it is he is doing. A child playing a game, building a sand castle, painting a picture, is completely in what he is doing. His self-consciousness is gone; his consciousness is wholly focused outside himself.” Those moments when I am able to focus on something wholly outside myself are effortless when I can get on the floor with the babies and play.
Give myself permission to multi-task, but trying to limit this. We are all multi-taskers, and I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing – but as I am working on staying present, I am working to single task more often. During certain activities, such as having a conversation, working on a project, or during a meal, I try to limit other activities in order to stay more in the moment. I remind myself that there will be time to multi-task later in the day.
I wanted to end this blog with a quote, but I couldn’t choose just one – so here is an assortment of my favorites:
“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn
“In today’s rush, we all think too much — seek too much — want too much — and forget about the joy of just being.” ~Eckhart Tolle
“Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that – thoughts.” ~Allan Lokos
“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” ~Buddha
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future; live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh”
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” ~Buddha
Thanks for reading!