The Past and the Future are only present in our thoughts. We often fill our days with these thoughts – totally missing our Present moment experience. And often, when we do “arrive” to what is happening right now, the emotional feeling flavors in the body, that have been stimulated by the reflection or planning, linger like the ring of a bell after it’s been struck. We are usually totally unaware of how those feeling flavors in the body subtly (or not so subtly) affect our perception, our interpretation of our perception, our motivations, and our resulting behavior.
Usually the nature of the past/future thoughts that we repeat to ourselves is unpleasant or negative – like regret/guilt/anger over what did happen, or anxiety over what might happen. And this isn’t because we are just too negative, damn it! (which, of course, is the process of applying a negative judgment to the fact that we have negative judgments! – a never ending downward spiral) – but due to the fact that our brain is evolutionarily designed to hear negative over positive to help us evolve – although that is a gear we need to evolve out of as it is no longer helpful.
So, in recent classes, I have been playing with the theme of noticing the feeling flavors in the body that were activated by and left behind from any negative thinking – to allow us to accept the physical fact of those sensations with an open allowing – thus helping the feelings (and the corresponding thoughts) flow – and get DIGESTED (by which I mean we extract the nutrients and get rid of the waste.) And yes, it can be that simple.
It can actually be quite amazing to discover how much EASIER it is to let go of things than to hold on to them, but that is only discovered when one actually does it. No matter how many people tell you it is so, from the place of holding, tension, judgment and frustration it seems almost impossible to conceive of much less attempt – and there seems to be no reason to trust such a wild concept – “You mean I should open up to and allow unpleasant feelings??” Yeah. Tightening up and turning away never works. The only answer is to open up and turn towards, to accept, allow and let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.
So I will often encourage meditators that I’m working with, to notice (in that magical moment of “waking up” from thought to the sensory reality of the present) what feeling flavors linger in the body. Those sensations are probably familiar and may or many not be pleasant. And I encourage an acceptance of and relaxing around and through these feeling flavors – which almost always being to “flow” (move/change in some way), and shift into a kind of energy that is not necessarily unpleasant. Sometimes it’s quite pleasant. (And I will also usually encourage a gentle, fascinated exploration of these sensations, which can be a way to help let go of the resistance – which is what locks the “ick” in place.)
Once someone has had the experience of this, they know the way – and there is a higher probability that they’ll be able to do that the next time and the time after that – each repetition creating a new habit (and corresponding neuro-pathway in the brain), so that it can start happening when you’re not thinking about it – like a default.
But before such experience is had, there may be a strong resistance to attempting to accept something that is unpleasant. A storehouse of judgments about that whole notion may be released.
So I use fascination to address this. I like fascination. There is a man who puts a quote from me at the bottom of his emails, “If you can’t get concentrated, get fascinated. ~ Stephanie Nash” – and yes, I used to say that a lot.
I love getting people fascinated in their sensory experience. I will often guide meditations that are 40-60 minutes long and afterwards most people say it felt like 20 minutes – that’s because they stayed concentrated and, (especially considering I always have newcomers), that’s because they were fascinated. I find it interesting and I play tour-guide and point out all the interesting nooks & crannies of sensory experience – be it sight, sound or touch – be it visual experience with the eyes closed or the flowing nature of physical sensations. I happen to find it all endlessly fascinating and share that to the best of my ability.
And when we get into emotional sensations in the body, fascination not only helps you stay concentrated (and actually emotions tend to do that naturally), but the fascination works here to BY-PASS the resistance. So that whatever emotional sensation you may be experiencing – especially if it’s icky, sticky, post-negative thinking – try exploring it the way a 4-year old explores a lady bug. (That’s my favorite analogy for the open, curious, non-judgmental mind – but until I come up with a new metaphor, I’m sticking with that one.) To the 4-year old, everything is “Cool!” “Whoa, look at that!”
So the body feels icky – where? What’s the texture? The intensity? Are there different areas? Is there movement? As you started paying attention to it, did it start to move or dissipate or spread? And soon the natural flow may start and you will have just by-passed the judging resistance and gone straight to the flow.
And then the urge to hold the thoughts of past & future has less “fuel.” And it becomes easier to let them go, and return to the present. (The present is actually more interesting and relevant, but the HABIT of chewing on thoughts is what we’re disecting here.)
So, no matter what your strategy is for letting go of the habit (of spending your Present ruminating about the past & future), check out what’s going on in the body in those moments when you “wake up” – and if you can turn towards and investigate, or get fascinated, or simply accept and relax around whatever sensations are there – you can help those feelings (that DRIVE the thinking mind) to DIGEST, to PROCESS, to release – freeing you up to the Wonderful World of the Present Moment once again. It always awaits with open arms.