With the global economy teetering on the brink of disaster and federal elections on both sides of the 49th parallel about to take place, this is a time of intense public debate and speculation about how our collective futures will unfold. Depending on how optimistic we tend to be, what kind of risk takers we are, how resilient we feel to change, or how trusting we are of our leaders, we may be experiencing any number of emotional responses to the current situation.
How do we weather uncertainty? How do we loosen our grip on our need to control? How do we stop creating stories about what we think might happen to us in the future? How do we empower ourselves when we feel powerless about our situation? One idea is to become more mindful of what is happening in the here and now.
Mindfulness is one of the latest developments in the world of western psychology that has been appropriated from eastern meditative philosophies. Its theory is that if we are preoccupied with regrets from our past or if we are worrying about the future, we are no longer living in the present and therefore unable to respond to what is happening now. Mindfulness is simply learning to pay attention to one’s thoughts without criticism or judgment, so that we can “be here now.”
One of the leading proponents of this theory and the person behind the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs used throughout Canada and the U.S. is Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn who wrote the book, “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” His MBSR program has been found to be highly effective in treating stress, anxiety, panic, depression, obsessive thinking, and other psychological and medical conditions.
Another wonderful resource is, of course, Eckhart Tolle. In the “The Power Of Now: A Guide To Spiritual Enlightenment,” he wrote that “All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry—all forms of fear—are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence…”
At the suggestion of one of my clients, I recently read “Mental Traps - The Overthinker's Guide to a Happier Life, by Dr. Andre Kukla, a professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of Toronto. In his book, he identifies a number of “habitual modes of thinking” or mental traps, that make us unhappy, waste our time or interfere with living our lives to the fullest. Persistence, for example, is the inability to give up on something even after it is no longer relevant; Amplification is the act of working harder than we need to achieve the same end; Fixation is the inability to let go of something that needs to be done but is currently blocked by outside forces, and Anticipation is the need to do something in advance of when it needs to be done. His solution is “the practice of thought watching” so that we can catch ourselves before we become trapped in our traditional and ineffectual ways of thinking.
If you are feeling stressed by current events, you may find it helpful to remember, “The past is gone. The future is yet to be. All we have is now.” You may also wish to pick up one of the books mentioned here or call to make an appointment.
Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
“Helping Your Life Work”