The Power of Now

I recently purchased the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle because I was intrigued by this idea:

Depression is dwelling on the past, anxiety is dwelling on the future, and peace is dwelling on the present.

Maybe you’ve heard something like that before. There is a very similar quote attributed to Lao Tzu, although I’ve heard that it may be questionable who really said it.

But this idea that living in the present moment is the key to peace and happiness has been something I have been pondering for a while.

The premise of Tolle’s book is that depression is experienced because we are dwelling on negative feelings about the past, like regret, guilt, or self-loathing. Anxiety is experienced when we negatively dwell on the future, causing feelings of fear, worry, or dissatisfaction with life in general. True peace and happiness, according to Tolle, comes when we stop living so much in our heads, and take time to be present in the here and now.

There are examples in the Bible that would seem to echo this idea. The Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) uses the phrase “give us today our daily bread” (NIV), which could imply that we only need to ask God for things concerning today (we don’t need to ask him for tomorrow’s bread, we just need today’s.) A little later in chapter 6, it says “therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

In the book of Exodus, when the Israelites are wandering in the desert, God provides daily food for them – manna and quail (ch. 16). The people are instructed to “go out each day and gather enough for that day.” Anyone who gathered more than a day’s worth found it to be rotting and “full of maggots” by the next morning.

Mindfulness, the practice of being fully present with where we are and what we’re doing, has been gaining popularity in Western culture over the past decade or so, and it also heavily utilizes the present moment, the NOW, to decrease stress and anxiety. Mindfulness meditations typically have you focus on sensations in your body and view your body and thoughts in a non-judgmental way. Headspace, one of my top picks, is a great app to check out for guided mindfulness meditations.

Obviously the idea of there being power in the now is not new or uniquely attributed to one person.

So what does it look like practically to live in the present moment?

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Being Present in Painful Moments

So, how is everyone out there handling the COVID-19 stuff and social distancing? Or maybe you’re in quarantine, either by choice or due to necessary circumstances…

It’s been one week since life seemed like it got turned upside down – at least in my part of the world. I work at a university library, and one week ago we found out our university was extending Spring Break and moving to online classes for two weeks (which has now been extended through the end of Spring semester, and possibly beyond.) Every day new information would come out, and whatever we had heard the day before wasn’t accurate anymore – things kept on escalating.

Initially I was not worried about the coronavirus, or about how it would affect my life. But by about Monday or Tuesday of this week, I could tell my anxiety was starting to kick into high gear, as maybe it did for many others out there. As more and more news came out, I found myself not being able to think about anything else – I wanted to know more, but also wanted to not know at the same time.

I doubt that my reflections on this past week are novel or earth-shattering, but I’ll share them anyway:

My first thought was that it’s crazy how just two months ago life was so different – I was so busy traveling every weekend – for my birthday, for my mom’s birthday trip to DisneyWorld, for the My Hero Academia anime convention my husband and I went to in Dallas… My worries then were so different, and I took for granted that all my plans would just happen, like they always seemed to. Being forced (maybe “forced” is a bit strong, “obligated” works too) to stay home and not go out or be with friends reminded me that we just aren’t guaranteed much in life – we’re not in control of very much at all. This is difficult for anyone that has anxiety.

My second thought I wanted to share came about because I was rereading a journal entry I wrote back on January 22nd, and here’s what it said:

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Peace in Uncertainty

It’s a quiet Saturday night here at our house – our dog Oliver is on the couch across from me and our son Calvin has finally fallen asleep. (We recently got rid of the nighttime pacifier, so bedtime has been a bit harder these days.) I have already done my scheduled two hours of grad school today, so I have a bit of time to myself – free time (what a concept!) It seemed like as good a time as any to write – so here we go.

Today marks 11 straight weeks I’ve been wearing my boot. For those who don’t know, I’ve been trying to recover from a tendon injury since mid-May – I’ve worn the boot off and on again at the recommendation of my doctors, and this 11 week stretch has been a last-ditch attempt at avoiding surgery… but it looks like surgery is imminent.

Back in April I wrote a post about how I was so proud that I had been keeping up my running habit for an entire year – I had no idea how quickly running would be something I couldn’t do – it’s crazy to think I haven’t run in over 6 months. It’s crazy what has become my new normal. The boot is just a part of me now. How long is it supposed to take to form a new habit? 2 weeks? 3 weeks? I can tell you after 11 weeks, the habit is well-ingrained. Every morning when I wake up, I pull on the boot, fasten the three velcro straps, and pump up the air to a medium firmness before I step out of bed. I sit down to take showers now, since putting all my weight on my right foot in a slippery bathtub was a bit tricky. I have a whole system now of how I get in and out of the shower without falling, all while balancing on one foot until I can get my boot back on. It’s just the new normal.

I have a friend at work who also is dealing with a foot injury. He goes to physical therapy a few times a week, and he met a woman there who slipped on a pebble and seriously fractured her foot. She has to wear a walking boot for a whole year. I mentioned to my coworker that if she had just stepped a few inches further to the right or left, she wouldn’t have slipped and had the accident. This idea has stuck with me, how such a small decision can leave such a big impact on a person’s life – how sometimes just a few seconds (or inches) is all it takes to make a difference. It’s like when you hear stories of people getting into car accidents, and you think, “wow, if they had just left their house 5 minutes later…”

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