Some things bear repeating. Important ideas are recycled in online circles and in church basements with frequency. Little bits of wisdom take different forms but some are essentially grounded in the same idea. One such piece of wisdom is the idea of living in the moment. This idea spans the globe and permeates through different cultures. It is passed down through generations.
It’s everywhere. It lives in our languages and in our subconscious minds. The modern idea that we refer to as ‘mindfulness’ is rooted in this ancient idea.
You’ve heard the mantras. Be here now. Live for the moment. Don’t dwell in the past. One day at a time. The next right thing. Catastrophizing. All of these ideas remind us to focus on what’s happening right now.
Most animals can’t think beyond right now, but we humans have this ability. It might be argued this is our greatest strength and weakness. To dream is seen as a gift but to worry is a burden. To learn from the past is empowering but ‘catastrophizing’ the future is crippling. Part of being human is this ability to think outside the box and that seems to be a source of conflict.
As an active alcoholic, I chose to live in the moment as often as possible. Whenever I used to ‘tie one on’, I was living for the moment. Perhaps drinking awakened my primal instincts. My mindset became “Screw everything.” Screw what happened at work that day. Screw what will happen when I’m drunk. How I feel tomorrow is of no consequence. It was all about ‘right now’ when I was drinking (it was all about ‘me’ too, but that’s another story).
Naturally, I am a skeptic towards anything stated to be a universal truth. I could over-analyze and criticize the “Power of Now” all day long.
Someone told me to take what I want and leave the rest. That’s how I approach the wisdom of gurus and people who seem to be on a moral high ground. So that’s how I choose to approach this topic. I see a lot of value in the power of Now in my own recovery.
Alcoholism and Being In the Moment
So many of life’s problems and our own imbalances are related to things that are rooted in the past and the future. Every person could perhaps gain from being patient, being more deliberate, being attentive towards others, savoring the moment, etc. However, let’s narrow the scope to alcoholism.
Many of our problems and shortcomings as alcoholics are related to focusing on the past and future, instead of the present. Fear is essentially related to unknown future outcomes. Impatience is a desire to speed things along so that a future event happens sooner. Resentments are built upon past events and emotions and they can manifest as fear and presumptions.
It may not be a magic pill, but mindfulness and living in the moment can be particularly helpful to recovering alcoholics. It is a gift to realize that you cannot tackle all of life’s problems, or even one problem, at once.
One Step At a Time
Recovery programs employ the use of ‘baby steps’. Recovery is a gradual process of incorporating healthy behaviors and attitudes into each day. In early recovery, it can be overwhelming because there is a lot of work ahead. Many of us want the results to come quickly, to ease our suffering now. If we are in the moment, we take care of what’s most urgent. If we think too far ahead, we might become lost.
It is important early in recovery to not take that first drink each day and this becomes easier with time. As we get more days of sobriety, we can take further steps to heal the underlying suffering. We will be given the tools to cope with situations that arise. We can find peace and joy, but it is a process. Recovery is done in increments and cannot all be done at once.
When I was still in my first few months of sobriety, the idea of never drinking again really bothered me. I realized that ‘ever’ doesn’t exist for me. Only today. That’s it. I don’t have to worry about when and if I live until I’m seventy five years old. That may or may not happen. Whether or not I’m going to have a drink in thirty years is not relevant. Only today is relevant, when it comes to not drinking.
The old wisdom is right. I’m not going to get bent out of shape and be a contrarian. It’s possible to learn from the past and not dwell on it. I can dream about the future and not worry.
The future is a concept which hasn’t happened yet. The past exists in memories and relics. So the only thing that really exists is right now. This moment might be the ultimate reality.
It’s easy to say “Be present in the moment” and all of the various mantras. It’s an entirely different thing to put it into practice. Here are some things that I am telling myself to continue to put into practice each day:
- Learn how to breathe. Incorporate meditation into your day. If you find yourself full of anxiety, take a moment to just breathe. If you find yourself waiting in anticipation, i.e. feeling impatient about something, take advantage of that time to lower your blood pressure and breathe.
- Savor things. When you eat, really take the time to enjoy the food you are eating. When you see a beautiful sunset, take the time to stop and soak it in. Take time to relax.
- Savor sobriety. There is no finish line, no “spiking the football”, no diploma, nor arrival. We live in the moment. Recovery lives in the moment.
- Be engaged. Consciously observe your surroundings. Pay attention.
- Be okay with your thoughts. You are not your thoughts. It’s okay to get carried away by your thoughts and become distracted. Try to come back to just being and breathe.
- If you doing something that makes you anxious, don’t focus on the anxiety. Focus on what you are doing.
- Be less self-conscious and more world-conscious. You are a part of everything, not separate from it.
- Set goals. Goals help you know what to do in the moment.
- Don’t run away or avoid problems. Deal with things and feel the peace associated with that.
May the force be with you.