Many people are telling me they feel distressed these days. People are struggling with the wide-ranging effects of the pandemic. Some of us have lost friends and family, some have been ill, are ill, or have significant change in their professional and personal lives.
It is just a very unpredictable and difficult time. We do not control much of what is happening.
What is always most helpful is to feel a sense of our own effectiveness, a sense of our own agency in the present moment. Feeling like a victim pushed around by outside events is, in every case, distressing.
I think we need to ask ourselves one basic question: What is the best way to work with the current stressors so that I add value to the world and to my life?
For me it comes down to a very simple question. What can I do today? What will be required today?
I can never answer those questions well if I am not really present in this very moment. If my mind is telling me scary stories I will miss what is right in front of me that requires action, or requires me to wait until the most helpful time to take action..
Sometimes we are faced with our worst fears, or worse. That is the reality of the pandemic, the current social unrest, the increasing violence, and sometimes helplessly watching our loved ones or ourselves fall ill.
So, it is a problem when we are telling ourselves those scary stories about any or all of these things. Until we have to act, the stories are truly just stories, that is, they are not happening right now.
Those stories raise our stress levels, make us anxious, and make us feel overwhelmed. Those stories obscure what actually is needed in the present moment that will help us be organized and effective when the time for action arises.
It is incredibly valuable to develop the ability to just be in the present moment. Right here, right now, what can we do? What actions will be less helpful now? When do we need to let the strong emotion wash through us, and when do we need it to guide us? Who can we ask for assistance? If we stay in the present, we can see more clearly.
There is a method to help us focus on this moment, here and now. It is a developed skill, and like any other skill, we have to practice. If you want to play Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, you have to first play scales. Every day. If you want to be fully present in each moment you have to meditate. Every day.
So, sit still every day and focus on your breath, even if just for 5 minutes. When you sit and focus on your breath, again and again, you actively ignore the scary stories. Don’t enter into the conversation with yourself. For this moment, then this moment, return to the breath.
Just like playing scales, eventually you get good at it. But stick with it. It takes time to develop the skill.
You can’t flunk this. Your mind probably won’t get totally quiet. I’m sure you have ignored some conversation before (think; parent, sibling, spouse, teacher, boss), so I’m pretty sure you know how to do it. Don’t let your own mind rile you up. Just focus on your breath.
There are things we all need to do. There are things we can begin to do now. But we need to clearly see the best paths of action.
Meditation won’t magically make everything better. Meditation makes us better able to handle situations and trends that are really very difficult. Mozart’s 41st is very, very difficult, and yet people can play it because they have practiced.
So, practice ignoring scary stories. You will be able to attend to what is truly needed.