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Check into the present moment and avoid stressing about the future

By Lauren Olson, February 15 2021 —

I study a text called A Course in Miracles and have been for almost five years now. The book consists of two main parts. The first section is a text with theory and context and the second part is a workbook which consists of daily lessons — 365 of them — with the idea of doing one lesson every day.

I’ve been through the lessons three full times and just re-started for the fourth time. If you’re doing the math, I skipped a lot of days when I first started. It’s amazing because every time I start again I take something different from it than I did before. I honestly feel like I could go through the lessons for the rest of my life and there will always be something for me to relearn, or hear again. 

Anyway, this isn’t about the book, it’s about something in my lesson today which I meditated on. My lesson talked about my mind being preoccupied with past thoughts. Furthermore, those past thoughts tend to become thoughts about the future and that any thoughts other than the ones exactly in the present are meaningless. So, what does that mean to me? Well, the past is gone and the future hasn’t happened yet. From that perspective, I can’t argue. The past really is nothing but memories and since the future hasn’t happened yet, technically it’s not real yet. I was meditating on this idea and noticing my thoughts and watching them as they came in and out and, as is the point of the activity, realized that all my thoughts were about things in the past or the imagined future. 

So why do I care about this and why bother thinking about it? Well, in context of the current times and staying home and not working, not seeing friends and basically being ‘stalled,’ it feels extremely relevant. I realized that a lot of my own feelings of anxiousness that come up happen when I think about the fact that I’m not really making any money right now or I’m not ‘moving forward.’ Why is that stressful? Because then I can’t pay down my student debt, I can’t save money for the future — boom, right there. The concern is about the future. When I bring it to the present, right now, I am good. Anxiety decreases. 

Intrigued by that train of thought, I let it run even further ahead. I think this is probably applicable to most of us in North American society particularly, that we’re very concerned with the future and doing life ‘right.’ We’re all anxious about staying home because we’re not being productive and making money to prepare for our futures. I feel like I need to interject my own self here and say that I’m not recommending saying “Fuck it! There is only the now and the future doesn’t exist so I’m not going to do anything!” That is ridiculous. Yes, I’m talking about taking a leap of faith and trusting that the future will arrive in the form of a new present moment. But, I recognize that we do still live in the form of the world and it is important to look after the form, too. What does that even mean? For me it means sure, have a savings account, have a job, have your family, be a nice person, stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic and the like. Live in the world, absolutely, but maybe lessen the idea there is something important to be done here.

Back to my train of thought running full steam ahead — following the typically-prescribed way of life, I’m supposed to have a career, get married, have kids, have a house, have weekend get-togethers with friends, save for retirement, go on a yearly vacation and eventually retire and hang out until I die. Questioning that prescription is where I’m finding some freedom of spirit. So I do that, and I imagine I did it ‘right’ and then I die and then what? Is there going to be some long-bearded, sweet old man on the other side waiting with a medal for me? Will he say, “Good job, Lauren! You followed the instructions perfectly and you get to go to a special place in heaven for your good behaviour on Earth!” I don’t think so.

In fact, that idea is literally laughable to me. It’s laughable because without realizing it, I stress myself out today, as a 30 year old woman (who, by the way has built herself a very good ‘today’) subconsciously worrying about if I’m going to get my participation medal after I die. 

Is there anything wrong with the way of life I just described? Absolutely not! Will I live that prescription out? Maybe, maybe not. I really don’t know. The stress in the moment, though, comes from worrying that I’m doing it wrong. The stress of not working and making money and saving for the future goes a lot deeper than meets the eye. The thing is, at the end of the day I think all of us just want to be happy. We’re sold on the idea that doing things a certain way is the way to get happy. That’s the problem. When I get the promotion, then I’ll be happy. When I get married, then I’ll be happy. When I go on that trip, then I’ll be happy. That will never work. There will always be another then. Unless I stop thinking that happiness is something to be worked for, earned and maintained, I’m always going to be striving and I’ll never be happy in the moment. I truly believe that happiness is already within each of us and we’re just so busy trying to find it outside of ourselves in these social constructs that we don’t even see it, let alone feel it.

It’s like we’re all living for the finish line. A finish line that is abstract at best. I’m really trying to take this time that we’ve all been given to look at the life I’m living, look at my plans and to ask myself what I really want. I’m challenging myself to be very bold with my answer to that question. What do I really want? I’m challenging each answer I come up with — asking “why” do I want that? Deconstructing all those thoughts because there are a lot of layers there. I have to say, it’s pretty freeing when you get down a few levels. It’s exciting and interesting and it’s helping me to feel more at peace with the present moment, which was the point of this whole thing. The point of my lesson today. I just want to be happy. And more and more, I am. Happy for no reason. Happy just because. Happy doing whatever activity I choose, or don’t choose. Time will pass anyways and I’d rather be happy in each moment than striving to be happy later on. 

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