“Mom, we are out of milk!”
Yes, I need to get milk. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of things I need to get. “Add it to the grocery list!” I shout. And one need triggers another as thoughts race through my head. When in the world am I going to get to the store? When am I going to schedule an oil change? All the while, I’m thinking we need to get out of the door in 10 minutes. I still don’t have makeup on.
A chain of unexpected events early in the week sent life into a tail spin and one thing set another behind. On top of daily living, receiving a text from a friend struggling with deep grief reminded me of my own vulnerability. The fact that I had my crazy happy life today was no guarantee it would be there tomorrow.
Every day I talk to those whose plates are overflowing with trauma from the past triggered in the present, as well as fear of tomorrow, all the while stealing today's joy. A client said, “They say God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, but they sure haven’t met me!” Life has dealt them a heavy load.
What if we could really live in the present? Really live in what is happening right now? Today. What if the past did not haunt and the future did not stir up anxiety and fear? What if we could find joy in each day and even receive present pain?
I hand my client a coaster. It is small and light. “Can you hold that for a while?” I ask.
She nods. “Sure.”
I have this round platter and on it are some large dried pods. Cocoa pods, I believe. Brown and hollowed out with a little shaky something on the inside. There are seven on the wood platter. Seven lifeless pods which easily represent burdens from the past---things that went wrong, losses, broken relationships, dark things that still haunt. I lift the wood platter and add that to the top of the coaster. Her hand wobbles. She reaches with her other hand to steady it.
“This is the past," I announce.
I reach for a container full of dried hydrangeas. I add that to her already heavy laden palm. It sits easily on top of the wood platter but it adds to the weight. “This is tomorrow. All those pretty little uncertainties. The what ifs.” The load is clearly going to take some energy to balance on her palm for very long.
I then remind her the future is not happening. I remove the flowers. Nor is the past. The only place the thoughts exist are in her mind. I remove the wood platter of pods. She is left with the coaster. Easily she balances it on her palm and is even able to toss it in the air a bit and catch it flat on the surface of her hand.
“This is all you have to carry today. The present. That you can handle. See how much energy it takes to manage things that aren’t happening? If you are carrying around tomorrow and last year, that is consuming a great deal of energy that was intended for today’s pursuits. It steals your joy.”
Right now if a large object dropped through the roof of your house it would be freaky. But I know you could handle it. It is worrying about what just happened or what will happen next that will overload you. But the moment---you can handle it. Even pain you feel in the moment is bearable when it is not amplified by fear and worry. The trick is learning how to live in that moment and convince your body that the only thing happening is right now.
So what will you put on your plate? I will take one slice of today, please. Today has everything I need, and I have everything I need for today. It may include making tangible arrangements for tomorrow, but that’s very different than living somewhere nonexistent--the past and future. I know living in negative non-existent stressful places is worse than useless, so I will take one day at a time and each day discover what my plate will hold. I will enjoy the slice of today, knowing I have all I need.
Jill M. Lillard, MA LPC is a Managing Partner and Therapist at Lifesong for Growth & Wellness www.findyourlifesong.com