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Adventures in Mindfulness

Katie Estes is a freelance designer, art director, photographer and stylist. She sometimes writes too. 

And, Now.

Katie Estes

There are as many ways to access spirituality, the now, whatever, as there are people in the world; what there isn't enough room for is judgment of which way is right. What's right is what's right for you. For me, it's books. How do I know? Because I've tried everything else. Everything. Almost everything. I've had exquisite teachers, but nothing felt sustainable. Whether it's prohibitive costs, limiting beliefs (my own or other's,) physical location or confidence, there always ends up being a block to consistency. Books are always there. Their return on investment is immeasurable. Especially if you buy them used on Amazon or they are gifted from a friend. They don't judge. (Sometimes they judge.) You can read them over and over and the 15th time might mean something wildly different from the first. For whatever reason, I don't give up on books. I might read one for six months because I'm resisting, I swear I can read faster than that, and then I'll pick it up months later and read it again and it will make sense. Finally. I especially like books with stigmas. Like The Power of Now. 

I read Power of Now and it didn't make sense. I so desperately wanted it to make sense. It didn't. I even bookmarked key ideas with colored tabs to motivate myself. A year later, I opened up to some of those tabs and they started to make sense. I noticed that a closed book is sort of intimidating. Sitting there, taunting you with, "I'll change your life, all you have to do is read 300 pages and pay attention." That's a hell of a lot of pressure to take with you while turning each page. Of course you're going to resist. One excerpt that made sense to me, that cleared an entrance into understanding was the following:

"The reason why some people love to engage in dangerous activities, such as mountain climbing, car racing, and so on, although they may not be aware of it, is that it forces them into the Now—that intensely alive state that is free of time, free of problems, free of thinking, free of the burden of the personality. Slipping away from the present moment even for a second may mean death. Unfortunately, they come to depend on a particular activity to be in that state. But you don't need to climb the north face of the Eiger. You can enter that state now."
-Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, p. 42

I can? Because I've been doing it this other really ineffective way. When I was in grad school, I'd numb myself into a stupor in between projects by watching survival shows about climbing Everest. I didn't even climb the mountain, I just thought about other people doing it. Tolle's statement seemed to me like a relatable activity: creating a rush in order to feel. Just fill in the blank with whatever suits you—drinking, drugs, arguing, blaming, overworking, overthinking. Overthinking! This I can talk about. My go-to method is over analysis in attempt to get to the present. I tear myself down, exhausting myself with berating thought after thought until I'm so empty that I can do nothing but cry. And I mean cry. Cry until I believe every thought I came up with, and all negative future scenarios that I believe I deserve. It looks a lot like this:

thought-diagram.jpg

I create this vicious, brutal, terrorizing cycle that leaves me with nothing in the present but suffering. By replacing thoughts with awareness, the past and future lose their power over me. The need to control them, to cling to, to claw at them lessens (with practice.) The addiction to thinking subsides. In the past I've worried about what I was going to worry about. The past was my present. The future was my present. The more it hurt, the more true it was. I don't share this to be a victim, I've tried that and it didn't work either, I share because this was my version of "climbing the Eiger." And being conscious of thoughts instead of thinking about thoughts and what they mean is just simply an easier, better way. 

I've talked about the now with some people and it usually takes a direct negative, sometimes mocking turn. How can I not plan for my future? It's irresponsible. Tolle addresses it as well. He refers to necessary planning as your life situation. Whereas Tolle is sometimes hilariously blunt, I see it as a valid question with some degree of truth. There's a quality of defensiveness in that question. No one is saying you're doing anything wrong. There can be presence in planning for the future. If you are planning a trip, a move, a project, that is what you are doing. If done with full presence, you are researching, finding the best deals, weighing out options, completely aware and retaining information. You might find the more present you are, the more you practice being present, the more you remember. Clarity sticks around a little longer. It's no longer a means to an end. It's not resistant planning that needs to happen in order for the fun or the release to happen. Treating it as a means to an end will practically guarantee that the suffering will continue once the event does arrive. Being present while planning practically guarantees that the future will be good as the present you planned it in. 

I'm far from perfect and am only a week deep in doing my best to be intensely present. So far this is a more accurate representation:

presence.gif

The past and future come knocking, and it takes a constant conscious effort to see them, but not attach to them.

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And I would be lying if there hasn't been a day of just this:

non-presence.gif

It's hard but it's better than suffering. And better than watching these looped animated gifs. Staying present has been the ONLY thing that has provided consistent relief from recent and life-long overwhelming emotions. I'd love to hear any methods that have worked for you as well!