Staying in the Moment
As someone who regularly experienced anxiety well before the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been practicing “staying in the moment” for years as a strategy to interrupt my daily worrying and my less frequent, but much more intense, spiraling anxious thoughts. So I thought I knew all there was to know about what “staying in the moment” means and why it’s so crucial and healthy for me.
But the past two weeks have turned my world upside down and inside out. I’ve felt disoriented like never before. What seemed so important no longer seems to matter, and what I took for granted is so precious now.
And, truthfully, if we weren’t in a pandemic where going to the Emergency Room for an anxiety attack is unthinkable, there’s a good chance I would have paid a visit there. But giving into my anxiety in that way is not an option now. Yet I have my tools of recovery. And one of these tools is “staying in the moment.”
And, at this moment, that means REALLY staying in THIS moment. It means washing my hands for longer than I’ve ever washed them while moving my fingers around in new and fascinating ways. And you know what? This has given me an opportunity to pay attention to what I’m doing with my fingers, to feel how hot the water is, and to look at all the suds. And I’ve noticed that while I’m washing my hands these days, my mind isn’t wandering like it used to in the pre-COVID-19 handwashing days. I’m not even thinking about whether I’ll run out of toilet paper this week or whether I should stop going to the grocery store. Because for the first time in my life, I HAVE TO pay attention to washing my hands. And here’s the silver lining: I’m also giving my mind a break. It’s an object lesson in mindfulness.
It also means noticing where I am RIGHT NOW and doing what I can do RIGHT NOW. Noticing that right now I’m here in my dining room standing on my two feet at my makeshift desk getting work done, noticing that right now I’m breathing fine, and noticing that I feel anxious when I hear the newest numbers in New York on the latest newscast. But feelings aren’t facts. I learned that from LAP. The numbers I’m hearing that make me feel anxious don’t predict what will happen to me and my loved ones. But they do give me information. Information that tells me I’m doing the right thing for myself and for all of us by staying home and making sure my loved ones stay home. So what I can do right now, from where I am right now, is stay put, stay engaged in healthy activities, stay informed, and stay kind. And when I do these things, I feel better and I make room for my anxiety but it doesn’t dominate me.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced me to get back to the basics, one of which is simply staying in the moment.
Another lawyer reflects:
When I choose to be present, God, a higher power, the wonders of our universe, are available to me. Earlier this week I woke with a sense of dread. I’m in the demographic susceptible to the worst of the virus. Thoughts raced. What will I do if I get this virus? What if I get the worst symptoms? Who will care for me? Projection like that is unhelpful, but at that moment that is what I was feeling. Just feeling the dread, naming it and being present with it is the start to the way out. I spoke to my AA sponsor, to my daughter, and to other loved ones about what I was feeling. I saw it, felt it, walked through it and came out the other side. Yesterday, I spent the day with my grandson, felt the cool spring Carolina breezes while I walked and strolled him, saw the beauty of the flowers blooming noticed the clear skies; I enjoyed those moments of peace and beauty. I am here. At this place. In this moment.
Being present and engaged in our lives is not an easy task under the best of circumstances. Currently, with concerns about the effects of COVID-19 on our health and that of others; the personal and general economic insecurity it has created, and the unique quality of a pandemic to shake the foundations of our lives, make it a daunting challenge.
With the use of daily meditation we can tame our mind and live each day to the fullest. AA’s Step 11 introduces us to the power of meditation and prayer to keep us connected. The positive effects of meditation on our individual wellbeing have been scientifically proven. It is free and no equipment is necessary; it can be practiced anytime and anywhere.
Each morning I go to a quiet room with a comfortable chair and meditate for 10-15 minutes. If it helps you to stay focused, try one of the many meditation apps such as Calm or Breethe. You can also stop whatever you are doing at anytime of the day when you perceive worrisome thoughts intruding, and just take a few deep, cleansing breaths to clear your mind. For beginners I would recommend reading The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn.
As my first sponsor repeatedly told me: Try it; what have you got to lose?
A quote I find helpful is: “I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” Groucho Marx