I practice Zen meditation — much more sporadically than I care to admit, but I do practice it, and I have found it an incredibly valuable practice. It’s a grounding force for me, something that knocks me out of my head, quiets my spinning wheels of nervous thought, and lets me breathe.
It allows me to put an end to that “drowning” feeling I can get when my to-do list is 20 items long, and the time in which to do it is one hour. Being a musician/social worker/writer/teacher often means living with such lists, budgeting my time incredibly carefully to pull off what I need to pull off for my various jobs, learn the music I need to learn for various performances, and submit what I need to submit (such as, ahem, blog entries) on time (this one being a day later than I had hoped).
What happens when I meditate, even for only 10 minutes, is very subtle. But the impact is drastic. I’ll give you this morning’s rundown. I woke up with another one of those lists (well, I still have one of those lists — writing this being #2 on it). Last night, my wife and I spent the evening cleaning a horrendous mess in our kitchen after we discovered that our dishwasher had been collecting standing water for months (possibly years), creating the most foul-smelling “swamp-in-a-kitchen” you’ve ever experienced.
It wasn’t fun, and kind of got the ball rolling toward me feeling “on edge.” This morning, I was still buzzing a bit from that, and when I looked at my list, the nerves ramped up again. By the time I dropped my wife off at her work, I was at full fever pitch, unable to focus, worried, and stressed out.
I got back to our house, looked at my list, and just got stuck. And then that little voice in the back of my mind piped up, “maybe you can meditate, eh? You know it works…” Now, I’m good at ignoring this little voice. I do it far more often than I should. But this morning the voice got through to me. And so I meditated for about 20 minutes.
And afterward, I noticed the same subtle shift that I notice every single time: Instead of trying to hold my ENTIRE list, or my ENTIRE week, in my head all at once, I could drop it and just hold the present moment in my focus. My list went from 20 things that all had to be done RIGHT NOW to a list of tasks waiting very peacefully in line. My focus could simply land on the item that happened to be at the front of the line. Once that task finished, my focus turned to the next. The list remains, the time constraint remains, the possibility of failure remains. Even the anxiety remains, though greatly diminished.
So what has changed? Quite simply, I have stopped living in the future, and returned to the moment. And so my list gets in line. Instead of trying to solve every problem all at once, instead of focusing on 20 different things and an entire week, I focus on what I can do IN THIS MOMENT, and I let the rest wait. When I’m living in the moment I stop trying to stretch myself, stretch my focus, onto things that simply can’t be accomplished yet. I don’t forget they’re there — I’m AWARE of the line, but I’m not trying to solve every problem in it. I’m just trying to solve the problem in front of me.
We need to remember this living with diabetes. Diabetes can present us with so many demands all at once. It can present us with so many things to keep track of, so many goals to work toward, so many numbers to analyze and fret about. And it is so easy to live our lives projecting into the future, whether that’s projecting failure OR success.
And it doesn’t actually matter whether we project something positive or negative. The problem is projecting AT ALL. A good day of blood glucose levels is a good day of blood glucose levels, nothing more. And a bad day of blood glucose levels is a bad day of blood glucose levels. Sure, we need to monitor trends, and we need to take corrective steps if we get off track. But all we can control is what we do TODAY. And I’m not saying we don’t need to be aware of the future — we most certainly do, and we need to consider it when we take actions in the present. But we need to LIVE in the present.
In my own diabetes health life, I realized recently just how much I need to lose some weight. This is one of those issues I’ve always related to as if I’m still 20, but the fact is I’m 34. Weight isn’t something that will affect me way off in the future, it’s a matter of health NOW. And mine is too high. So, I’m trying to change some things in my diet, and in my daily routine, to exercise more and eat less. I’m being careful not to project an outcome.
Think of how many diets fail. And think about WHY they fail. It seems they often fall into two categories: Either they initially succeed, but then the weight all comes back because that all important future goal is no longer there to motivate us, or they fall apart because that future goal isn’t being realized. Success or failure, it’s the projection that’s the problem. In the first case, it ultimately fails because once our goal is reached, the motivation is gone. In the second case, the dissonance between the “imagined future” and the failing present is too much to take.
And so I come back, again and again, to the moment. It sounds SO easy. It sounds so basic — of COURSE we live in the moment, how can we “live in the future”? But we do. Stop yourself throughout the course of the day and just notice how often your focus is on “tomorrow’s chores” or “yesterday’s conversation with Nancy where she said something nasty about Bill… Well, I think SHE’S the one with the problem. Oh God, that’s right I have to call her, don’t I… ugh, I’m so TIRED of talking to her, I just want to skip it, stay in… I wonder if there’s a new episode of Modern Family on tonight?”
See? That’s what we do. All the time. And there’s nothing “wrong” with it. But just see what happens when you start to gently bring yourself BACK to the moment throughout the day. Notice what changes. For me, everything changes. My stress recedes and my clarity strengthens. Try it; see what living in the moment does for you.