I am often asked what is the single most effective way to manage worry and anxiety. My experience, and those of my clients, is to stay in the present. You see, we often don’t realize that everything that is in the past is gone, with very little or nothing we can do about it. Thus, those that tend to ruminate about the past or “live in the past” tend toward sadness and depression. On the other hand, everything we are worried, anxious, or scared of, hasn’t happened yet. It is all in the future and based on things yet to come (“What if I lose my job? What if my child doesn’t get on the team? What if the economy turns for the worst?). These things could happen, and if and when they do, you will deal with them. But how does worrying about them now help? It doesn’t.
As a psychologist and student of the human mind and behavior, I have been drawn towards Eastern philosophies of thinking and meditative techniques associated with present moment living. These Buddhist and Zen philosophies espouse staying present, detaching from outcomes (i.e., getting the promotion), and cultivating loving kindness and gratitude. A primary method for achieving the aforementioned is to engage in a daily meditation practice. For years, I read all the books, but kept waiting for the time to start a regular practice and attend a weekend retreat to kick things off. Like any good perfectionist, I needed to do it right. I tried getting up early—earlier than my usual early to answer email before the kids got up, but that didn’t last long. I tried setting time aside to meditate in the evening after the kids went to bed—but found myself falling asleep. I then tried setting time aside during the work day, but found it often got lost in the need to fit a client in, return client calls and answer emails (so I wouldn’t need to get up so early).
At last I learned about what some call informal or real time mediation. This involves being present in your daily tasks—truly focusing on what you are doing. This can be done while your drive, do the dishes, fold the laundry, and even walk to the bathroom on a quick break. Finally, something I had time for! And so do you. It is really very simple. You practice focusing on the immediate task at hand. I never thought that doing the dishes and folding laundry could be peaceful and rejuvenating. I focus on taking the clothes from the basket, each step of the folding process, and then placing them in the right pile. I focus on rinsing the dishes, putting them in the dishwasher, scrubbing the pots and seeing every little piece of food that needs to be removed before the final rinse and placement on the drying towel. I focus on the road, the car in front of me, and the streets being passed. I feel my foot press the accelerator and the slow press down on the brake.
The result of this? I am present in my life when I am focused on the small tasks that make up a day. My mind is calm, yet alert. I am refreshed rather than depleted. And, I am not worried or anxious when I am in the present. All of the things I typically worry about are still there somewhere, and still exist in the yet to be future, but I am fine in the moment. I still plan on cultivating a formal daily practice at some point, but for now, I have found a way to meditate in a way that fits my current life. The beautiful thing about real time meditation is that you always have time for it because you are doing it while you are living your regular life. Most importantly, you will feel less worried and anxious when you stay in the present whenever possible throughout your day.
Who has time to meditate? You do.