It comes as a great shock to many of us: the sense of being lost and the fear that we have somehow missed the boat in life.
As our days continue to speed along, the urgency to connect with who we really are compels us to dig deep and find answers. What now?
In this crisis of meaning, the challenge is to find ways to recreate and to revitalize ourselves in the face of change and loss.
The “ Here and Now ”
The Here-and-Now is the subjective space in which we meet our experience as it is happening. It is the space in which we authentically meet ourselves; the place of our encounter with our sensations, perceptions, and mind states. Here-and Now is also where we engage the interior conversation that, for better or for worse, creates the framework that determines the quality of our lives.
I like the idea of encountering the here-and-now because it underscores the fact that the way we meet the moment is a dynamic, transactional process. Moments flow one into the next, giving us the opportunity to learn to dance with life. We can attune our awareness to the emerging moment in a way that optimizes our ability to remain balanced and in a state of flow.
“NOW MOMENTS” —moments in which we are aware of the here-and-now— can be described in two basic ways: as PRESENT MOMENTS and as MOMENTS OF PRESENCE. Each moment of the here-and-now is both a particular moment of chronological time and a moment when we can be present with ourselves (or not).
NOW MOMENTS are moments in which we are present to (or with) the here-and-now of our experience and, at the same time, are aware that we are present. In other words, now moments are moments of self-reflection. They are moments in which we are present to an experience of Being.
The depth and vividness of Now Moments are of particular interest in both meditation and in the process of mindfulness-informed psychotherapy. NOW MOMENTS provide the opportunity to bring awareness to how we relate to the process of living, both within ourselves (our feelings, mood, and narratives) and in our interaction with others. We can notice and reflect upon how we do and don’t flow with the moment; the nature of the difficulties we have in being with the present moment, and what takes us away from the moment.
Deepening our awareness of the dance of life allows to frame the moment with wise and compassionate intentions towards our situation, ourselves, and others.
Most problems boil down to the wounds we have incurred in relationship with others.
Hurt, rejection, and disappointment get elaborated into walls around our hearts that keep us painfully separate from others.
To heal our wounds, we need to face them squarely and see them clearly. Unfortunately, it is often hard to see what is blocking us, especially aspects of ourselves which may have been disavowed or which are quite unconscious. (if we could see our own blind spots, they wouldn’t be blind!)
The empathic connection in mindful psychotherapy can help you define your psychological needs, learn how to communicate them, and maximize the opportunities for getting them met.
When confronted with the uncertainty and vulnerability that accompanies life’s inevitable difficulties, mindful psychotherapy can provide the perspective and support needed to regain emotional balance.
Emotional balance is a function of the capacity to bring awareness to what unsettles and unbalances us. The best way to engender emotional resilience and stability is to bring negative feelings to the surface where they can be explored, deeply felt, and released in the presence of an empathic other.
Difficulty in modulating emotional states often indicates unresolved developmental issues festering beneath the surface. We all fall under the influence of unconscious dynamics which negatively affect and suffocate our ability to think, feel, work, and love. Deep emotional understanding of what is getting in our way can help resolve these difficulties.
On the other side of fear, shame, and confusion, you will be empowered to make more effective choices.
The ability to go with the flow depends on our ability to listen deeply to the voice of our own wisdom in order to hear what life is speaking. We need to learn to relate to ourselves in a way that optimizes the mind’s natural organization and balance.
Learning to “go with the flow” is one of the basic goals of many awareness practices (such as mindfulness meditation). By bringing conscious awareness to life as an ongoing process, we can endeavor to receive life: to open to life instead of struggling against it. We can practice understanding that it is simply not possible to push the river.
When we can go with the flow in this way, we come into greater harmony with ourselves and with reality. We increasingly discover, as Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron famously said, that this moment is the perfect teacher. Life carries us downstream and unfolds without effort.
The quality of presence is deep knowing of the Here-and-Now. To be present means being aware in a way which is open, attentive, balanced, and flexible. We can cultivate the ability to Be Present deliberately by practicing bringing our attention to the Here and Now. This is the art of Meditation.
We can also cultivate Presence in our relationships in the simple act of connecting deeply with someone else. When we participate in another person’s lived story, or when we create a mutually lived story with them, more than just an exchange of information occurs. Something new emerges. Happiness is born in this act of connection, of interpersonal presence. This is one of the secrets of the “here and now”.
Relational connection is the heart of our humanity.
The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
— Wm Faulkner
We are all influenced by memories and experiences we may not remember or fully understand. These live in the mind as emotional tangles or knots of emotion, thought, and behavior: areas of ‘non-experienced experience’ in the psyche which encode unhappy, negative events from the past. These tangles become the basis of self-fulfilling prophesies: long-standing repeated patterns of upsets and problems in which our emotional history repeats itself.
Emotional tangles become ingrained in our lives and show up in the recurring experiences of reactions, upsets, and problems. We need to identify these patterns and begin to see how these reflect and express unhappy, negative views of ourselves that we have taken in from others. Bringing awareness to the experience of being upset is the first step. As we change what is inside, the outside can also change.
Psychotherapy is about finding those parts of us which have been lost from awareness. What has been lost from consciousness leaves a hole , a place which feels empty – an inner sense of deep deficiency or unworthiness. When we turn our attention to exploring these empty places within, we can find memories of hurt feelings and conflicts that block our natural ability to connect to others.
Our most habitual and compelling feelings and thoughts define the core of who we think we are. When we are caught up in a sense of being unworthy, the universal sense that ‘something is wrong’ turns into the feeling that ‘something is wrong with me’. This felt sense keeps us on the run, driven by desperate efforts to get away from ourselves.
In psychotherapy we pay attention to what someone is doing to ‘fill’ the holes they feel within: addictive attachments to substances, activities, and people. Ironically, our improvised ‘solutions’ to pain most often result in new, worse problems! By exploring the strategies used to block the feeling of what is painful, and by bringing awareness to the underlying feelings, we find the path to healing.
Our empty places, our ‘holes’, can ultimately only be filled by connection: by being listened to and by learning to listen deeply to ourselves. In psychotherapy, this involves bringing attention to what is being said and what is not being said. This quality of deep listening connects us heart-to-heart and cultivates the capacity for self-compassion.
Problems are the leading edge or horizon of change in our lives. Before real change is possible, we first have to see, feel, and understand what is. What is the source of the reactivity we are encountering in ourselves? What do we perceive to be at stake? What assumptions are we making? What representations of ourselves and others are involved?
Finding the opportunities for growth within problems is possible only when we can learn to look at them in a way that reveals what we most need to see. There is intelligence in the ways that problems are constructed in the mind. This idea is expressed in the image of a lotus flower with its roots in the mud and beautiful blossom above. Metaphorically, this evokes the possibility that the mud of our struggles can give rise to growth in the sunlight of awareness.
These reflections can be the subject of deep inquiry in mindfulness meditation practice and/or in psychotherapy. We can learn to practice with problems: to bring self-reflective awareness to the mind-set we bring to problems and to cultivate a wise relationship to problems.