The Power of Living in the Now
You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present. ~Jan Glidewell
Numerous brain activity studies have shown that when you imagine something vividly, your brain waves are exactly the same as if you were experiencing it first hand. That means that your brain, which controls your breathing, sweating, and emotions, does not know the difference between being spanked now and remembering being spanked twenty years ago. The same emotions, coupled with hormone levels, blood pressure, and focus, are there whether you are reliving an event or experiencing it in the ‘now’.
So what do breathing, sweating and emotions have to do with our day to day lives? Everything! How much oxygen gets to our brain, how we digest food and save energy for fight or flight, and what we focus on are constantly being monitored, adjusted and transmitted to our bodies.
Imagine you are in third grade and in a new school. Your old school had a poor or non existent physical education department. Its PE time now and you and your classmates are in your sneakers in the gym and you see a pair of huge thick ropes dangling from what looks like 100 feet in the air. You get into lines and two by two you see how far up you can climb the rope using your legs and arms. You have never seen this before let alone attempted it. Your classmates are all cheering some of the jocks as they reach the ceiling. Others get halfway up then slide down, still getting high fives. Your turn comes and you feel cold. You have no idea what do to next. Your throat closes up and you notice you are breathing short shallow breaths. You grab the rope and pull. Nothing happens. You hear snickering behind you. You pull again. More snickering and a few laughs. You pull one more time and realize that you don’t have the strength or experience to move up an inch let alone get to the ceiling. You turn around with tears in your eyes and eyes to the floor as your classmates roar in laughter.
Fifty two years ago, that was me in line in gym class. I can still feel the throat closing, the shallow breathing when I imagine that first day in PE class at the new school. I can imagine the smell of the rope and the sweat. For my body and mind today, I’m back at University Forest Elementary and it is 1958 and I want to go home.
Now logically I know that lanky eight year old didn’t have the skills and the gym teacher didn’t have the information or aptitude to help me out that day. I know that my classmates really didn’t know how painful their responses were. Remember that this was 1958 and ‘touchy feely’ teaching was not yet discovered. Nor did this do any permanent damage (I hope) to my psyche as far as physical exercise is concerned. I am an active athletic adult, muscular, and HWP (Height/Weight/Proportionate).
What I still carry around from this day is that whenever I start something new physically whether it be competitive swimming, learning to ride a motorcycle, take up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Karate; I get a momentary physical flash of fear that I know comes from seeing that rope in front of me. I could easily turn back to my ‘gut’ feeling and give up and go home as I desperately wanted to that day. But something pulls me into the ‘now’ and I go ahead with no fear.
So why is it that some people can emerge from a trauma and move on while others seem stuck in a dead end circle of self talk that keeps them frozen in a bad place? We’ve seen some men and women permanently devastated by a bad romance or job loss while others survive and thrive after debilitating accidents and greater losses. I don’t remember a self help book or seeing an Oprah show about this yet I know that the past is just that – ashes - learn and move on.
I really have no idea why there are such vast differences in how people see the world. (cup half empty or half full or with a crack in it and leaking) Perhaps it is evolutionary biology and a species in order to survive has to have some members always looking back and some in the now and some worrying about the future. Or maybe there is a difference in early childhood modeling. Parents who recall and force the child to recall the past experiences, good or bad, might be setting the stage for a lifetime of regret. I do know that a bad experience ‘sticks’ with you far longer than a good one.
Whatever the causes, I do know that each moment we have the power to be our own Brain Mechanic and stop, shift gears and live in the Now.
Have a peaceful week.
PS a friend finally showed me how to do this....