I took this photograph a few months ago when I went to the MoMA to see the Matisse Exhibit and it is only now that I am realizing how (dare I say) perfectly suited it is for this series. I myself have spent many an hour trying to ensure that I will walk through the “perfect” door by attempting to make “perfect” choices. It is only now, after many failed attempts to control the future (and by reading books like Present Perfect as well as a few Rookie articles like this one) that I am coming to see how preposterous of an idea it is. I think that we are all searching for that perfect door – for a life that serves us and is a representation of who we are at our core. This obviously looks different to everyone, and is a commendable endeavor when done in a healthy way.
I believe that working to make your life an external representation of who you are internally and striving for a lifestyle that supports your well-being is something that each of us should be aiming for – and to which no two paths look the same. However, there is a big difference between healthy striving and working tirelessly to attempt to orchestrate a life of flawlessness that is moored in obsessively planning for the future. The biggest flaw with this particular manifestation of perfectionism is that it leaves no time for enjoying the present moment and really tasting life.
Before you attempt to jump ship because you think I’m getting all Deepak Chopra on you, please hear me out: I have (and still) struggle deeply with this concept! I’m a huge planner – I love to do lists and pro-con lists (any kind of list, really) and it takes serious effort for me to pause and remind myself that while planning can be helpful in achieving goals and meeting deadlines, it often robs me of the joy that is found in the present moment. I cannot tell you (nor do I want to know, really) how many hours I have spent projecting into the future about negative things that (mostly) never end up happening when that time could be spent breathing, being present, and taking things as they come. This, my friends, is a hard habit to unlearn!
So, what does Dr. Somov have to say about letting go of that impulse to control the future, you ask? Well for starters, he explains that perfections, “…have a love-hate relationship with the future. Yes, you love the virgin, flawless, impeccable idea of the future but you also dread it because the future is fundamentally uncertain and is outside of your control.” (p. 154) I could not have found this more relatable. He then goes on to explain that, though it pains us, we must try to really internalize that uncertainty is just another part of the human experience. He states, that just as “we came to accept gravity as an ever-present parameter of our physical world” we must do the same for uncertainty, “as an ever-present parameter of our temporal and psychological world.” (p. 159) Once we accept this, it is our job not to attempt to control every detail of our lives but to control our reactions to being out of control and uncertain.
Dr. Somov then introduces the idea of ‘The Art of Emotionally Pragmatic Assumption’ which is a fancy term for, “a belief that you can live with […] that helps you survive uncertainty with the minimum level of distress.” (p. 159) The way that people do this differs vastly: religion and believing in a Higher Power or an ordering of the Universe is what came to mind for me, as well as my meditation practice. This quote from a beautifully written article about mental illness that Beth Kirby of the Local Milk Blog wrote came to mind as well:
I choose to believe everything happens for a reason for no reason other than I live better that way. I live in the hands of something other than myself. I rest there. In my blind, amorphous faith I give up my need to know so much, and there’s so, so much acceptance to be had in that place.
Dr. Somov also urges his readers to think back to moments in which they were in the throes of deep uncertainty and recall how they dealt with the experience and soothed themselves. It is important to build up an arsenal of sorts that you can use in these moments to avoid projecting too much or even numbing the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty. Over time, these means of coping (even if it’s just taking a few 4-7-8 breaths) should become habitual and grow stronger in their effectiveness in rooting you in the present moment.
Now, I am going to segue into the second part of this post: tips for practicing this art, also known as mindfulness. These are just a few resources that I have found to be personally helpful in my journey to being more present in my day-to-day life.
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle – I recently started but have yet to compete reading this book. I’m trying to really take my time with it to get the most out of Eckhart Tolle’s words. It’s all about realizing that your ego is not “you” and learning how to let go of obsessive thinking and worrying. It is only through learning how to stop listening to this part of the mind that we can find peace in our lives and learn how to simply be in the present moment.
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn – I have not yet read this book but it was recommended on Twitter by Josh Radnor, a practicer of Transcendental Meditation (and all around babe in mind, body, and spirit). I cannot personally attest to its merit yet but I am not in the position doubt its wise recommender after watching (and re-watching) Happythankyoumoreplease and Liberal Arts more times than I can count.
- Headspace App – I have been using this for the past month and it is by far the most comprehensive app I have found for meditation so far. The first 10 days are free and offer a foundation to what the rest of the Headspace journey includes. There is a fee to pay to subscribe but I personally felt that it was well worth it. I completed 30 days total of the foundational sessions which then unlocked several other series which I am sure the website explains in great detail. I try to take 10 minutes every morning to practice and I seriously cannot rave enough about how versatile and worthwhile Headspace is.
- YouTube Videos – These are a great option for those who don’t yet feel comfortable or willing to pay for an app or DVD. I started out with YouTube videos to get a feel for whether or not meditation was something I could see myself practicing regularly, and probably would not have been so willing to splurge for Headspace had it not been for the steps I first took on YouTube. A tried and true favorite that I still return to is this 5 Minute Meditation for Stress Reduction and Enlightenment. I also stumbled upon a playlist of one of Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s 21-Day Meditation Challenges a few months ago, but it seems to have been deleted. However, I’m sure that by searching ‘Deepak Chopra Meditation’ you can find great ones, though they tend to be much longer than 10 or 15 minutes. Here is a good example.
Anyway, I hope that this post was helpful for those who read it! I am still very new to meditation but I have already found it to be supremely helpful in ceasing control the future and just being joyful in the present moment. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that there are also great health benefits that can be attained through meditation and breath work, so this activity is not just a stress reducer for the mind but for the entire body – something that is much needed in our culture of over-stimulation and over-work. Please feel free to comment with any other suggestions that you have found to be personally helpful in this department. Happy Meditating!