My friend is struggling with a difficult wait. She intends to drastically change her life in a couple of months, but the time between this and that seems endless.
When we talked about how she would cope now and then, she said, “I just want to be there now. I want to be at the end of it, not in it.” In turn, without judgment, but with reflection (and maybe with some flippancy…), I asked, “Why do you think of February in November?”
Don’t be in the present
I realized that it was terribly hard for her to stay in the present, with what was right, right in front of her, so much anticipating the changes that were to take place in the near future.
If it was me thinking about February in November, it would be hard for me to see the tricks my mind is doing. I’m planning, I thought. “I get organized. I’m looking forward to the results. I’m thinking ahead.”
All of these mental responses and routines are highly valued in Western culture. We aspire to be like that, and not move away from them.
But when we are always planning, organizing, anticipating results, and thinking ahead, we are not in the present. I do not mean only the spiritual meaning, the mantra “Be here and now.” I mean it in a very down to earth, practical way. When our minds are consumed by thoughts and our hearts are twisted by feelings, the passage of days between now and then, now and what we expect, can be very difficult.
Each can feel so long and one on top of the other, seemingly endless, can feel crushing.
Overcoming waiting periods
That same friend came up with an idea that I thought was brilliant, and it reminded me of a strategy I used earlier in my life to get through a difficult period.
She started by trying to plan everything—for example, when she would make a particular phone call or when she would accomplish something related to her ultimate goal. But it became, in her words, “an unsettling plan.” Then she decided to make plans for two weeks.
The first two weeks were, she said, “no planning!” It was time to take stock. Those two weeks included meditation, journaling, and looking for positive moments, little water lilies in the mud.
Over the next two weeks, she broke down the tasks she needed to get done, spreading them out over time into the time periods when they made the most sense. Rather than trying to do as much as possible, as quickly as possible, trying to race against time to make time pass faster, she did what therapists call “partialization,” breaking down multiple or complex aspects of a situation into more manageable units so they can be resolved. easier.
Partial makes it easier to prioritize. Yes, it often has to be done. But we cannot do everything at once. So by taking this first step – without planning, just summarizing – we can take a step back to see what is most important, what needs to be done first, and then what needs to be done next.
Sometimes when we talk about being in the present, it seems inspiring. But particularization promotes being in the present in practice, allowing you to experience the present in a way that can be less unsettling: fair. one. Thing. B. Time.
When we’re waiting for something big, we think about all the parts of it, especially how things will feel when “it” arrives. I often find myself telling my therapist’s clients a story about my daughter who, from early childhood, had a great deal of anxiety about events. She anticipates them with such enthusiasm that she draws clear pictures in her head of what they will be like.
I know this because she asked me more than once, “When will we be there?” when we are already there. It can be a place for recreation or a social event. And when I tell her that we are there, that’s it, she’s crying. Whatever she’s been waiting for so long, well, this is is not it. She is confused, sad, disappointed and maybe even a little angry.
Children are often focused on the present, so it was interesting to watch her do something that we do so often as adults. We paint pictures of how we hope or wish things would be, spend a lot of time waiting for that particular outcome, and then get big feelings when things don’t turn out the way we expected.
My daughter’s vulnerability to discovering “this is it” matches our vulnerability as adults. We spend a lot of time in our feelings about events and outcomes. It is much more difficult to just be in a vacation spot or attend a social event.
Or wait until the time when our big thing happens, whatever it is, ends, becomes our new gift.
Copyright 2022 Elana Premak Sandler. All rights reserved.
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