How your relationship with Time influences depression, anxiety and stress and what you can do about it

21 October, 2010

I gave a presentation to 80 people last Sunday in Wellington. It was the last day of a large international conference. I was asked to talk about Living in the Now.

I have done a significant amount of research (both intellectual and personal) over the years about living in the Now moment and practising what we call Presence (commonly known also as mindfulness). I will talk more about what that means later. The 4-3 weeks of my life preceding this formal address were interesting for me. I live my life by a set of values: congruence and authenticity being the two main ones. For me this means I can't teach anyone anything unless it comes from a place of personal experience. I know other people that can teach anything - and I just can't, it doesn't feel right. I fell into the trap of running a workshop last year about a message that meant nothing to me personally and I didn't enjoy the experience at all, and promised myself never to do that again (and haven't).

Knowing I had this event coming up, I thought to myself "right, I really have to practice this concept in my life fully and completely". Luckily, having created a busy life for myself with lots of things that could occupy my attention at any given moment, I had a great deal to play with! It has been an awesome few weeks, despite having a lot to do, I have remained calm and energetic.

Why Practice Living in the Now?


Eckhart Tolle (www.eckharttolle.com) is a modern spiritual teacher. He is on the world famous public speaking circuit and has written several best selling books: the first and most well known one is The Power of Now. He has worked with Oprah Winfrey (although I knew about him before that!) and the Dalai Lama to name a few. He has only one message which he sends us in many different creative ways: the gist of it being (and I am paraphrasing here) Live in the Now and you will experience bliss. This will change the collective consciousness of human beings and therefore heal the world in the way it needs to be healed.

Tolle's work has been a huge influence in my own life and I commonly recommend his teachings to clients. Fundamentally his message is deeply spiritual: only when we are truly present do we get in touch with our higher Selves - what he calls Beingness. He says the human race has evolved into a "collective insanity" due to us mostly operating our of our small selves - our egoic mind, which is always insecure, always feels like it is not good enough, and always waiting for the next moment to be better, always causing a conflict with what is happening right now, always trying to prove itself right and another wrong. In his view the mind's need to be "right" is how we have evolved as a species killing each other in wars.

Beingness is the way to really KNOW yourself - you surpass the need to be "right" and make another "wrong". You are in touch with your higher self and therefore the collective consciousness. You are at peace, you are enlightened.

It's a powerful message and certainly one to consider. Difficult to pull off in every day life though and not everyone is interested in spiritual enlightenment.

I am interested in helping people feel better. People don't need to suffer as much as you do. I see clients for a variety of reasons: stress, burn out, depression, anxiety, fear, worry, sleep issues, self-esteem issues. As NLP is a solution focussed therapy, I always ask "so, if you didn't have/do that problem, then what would you have / do?" and the answer guaranteed to pop out is: "I just want a quiet mind and to enjoy what ever it is I am doing at the time". And often "I just want to find some peace".

Here we will concentrate on the practical every day aspects of Living in the Now and how, if practiced properly, how it can serve as an antidote to depression, anxiety and stress.

Why not "not Now"?

We have a curious relationship with Time, do we not? Consider the following statements that you will hear and say every day:

Hasn't this year gone quickly?

Christmas is approaching fast!

I have so much to do I am running out of time.

I was so bored, time just dragged!
It happened so fast it was almost in slow motion.

The view was so breathtaking that time stood still.

We see Time as a "thing": something we have or don't have, something we spend, something we waste, something that can speed up and slow down. And yet, this is delusional thinking. Time doesn't do anything: it is the same for all of us. 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute.

What makes our EXPERIENCE of Time so subjective and personal is the way we relate to it: our FOCUS. How we focus our attention changes our experience of Time People often come to me and ask for "time management" skills. What we really need is to learn Focus Management.

What is depression, anxiety and stress?

We know a great deal more about depression now than we ever have due to comprehensive research conducted and evaluated over the last 10 years. What we used to think were the "symptoms" of depression we now know are actually the causes of a depressed state (one example being "negative thinking"). To be in a consistent depressed state you are doing something very active in your brain: it is a process, not a "thing". I won't go into detail here as it deserves a full article in itself; yet what I will say is one of the causes a depressed state is living in the painful past. Life has delivered you bad experiences and you're re-living these unpleasant memories. You expect that your future is going to be the same as your past. You believe that because that bad thing happened to you back then, you can't be happy now. As Tolle would say, you are dragging your heavy past around with you.

Anxiety is also not a "thing" that you have, it is something active that you do in your brain and your body that results in you experiencing anxious feelings. This doesn't mean you do it consciously or on purpose! You are just not aware of what you do in your brain to get yourself anxious. Again, I won't go into full detail here. The key structure of anxiety is imagining something bad or unpleasant happening in the future. You can't get anxious about the past, although you can get yourself anxious about imagining that something bad that happened in the past is going to happen again in the future: "I was nervous last time I spoke in public so what if I am nervous this time? What if people notice? What if I pass out, or vomit?" If you imagine these things for just a few seconds, your body responds as if they are really happening and that's why you get bad feelings. As Tolle would say, you are living in an imagined problematic future.

There are a few ways in which one can get oneself stressed. You can be stressed about the impact someone else is having on your life, stressed that you have been given a task and don't know how to do it, or you don't trust yourself to do it well. You are mainly however, stressed because of Time. You have stuff that needs to get done (perhaps a lot of stuff) and if you had the rest of your life to do it, it would be no problem! It becomes stressful because there is some kind of time pressure - you have many things that all need to be done at once, and when will you "find" the Time?

Again, the experience of stress in mind and the body is an active process, not a thing. Clients come to me and say they want "less stress" in their lives. That would be the same as saying you want "less driving"! You either drive or you don't. You either do stress, or you do something else. You can't do stress and relaxation at the same time you see, so if you don't like stress feelings wer need to teach your brain and your body to do something different. We are mostly stressing ourselves by thinking about everything we have to do all at once. You are doing one activity and at the same time you mind is focussed on "and then I have to do that, and that, and that and that.......". Before you know it you have a hasty or rushed feeling in your chest and heart. Stress. It's time to pull back and slow down.

Why Practise Living in the Now?


The past and the future don't exist. That's a bold statement. Yet think about. They ONLY exist in your mind: they are only mental constructs that your mind has created to help you know where you are in life: you need to know the difference between what happened yesterday, what is happening right now, and what might happen tomorrow. If you didn't - you would be walking around in circles and you'd never make your appointments!

The problem is we allow the past and the future to exist in our heads as if they existed in reality. Our brain is too attached to them. And they don't exist in reality. The past is over, all we have is our own records of what has occurred (memories) which isn't 100% accurate anyway. The future hasn't happened yet. No one has ever been there, seen it, tasted it or touched it. The future only EVER exists in our imagination. At least the past is slightly more tangible because we have been there and survived - but it is definitely over and the future definitely doesn't exist at all - it's purely imagined. Yet our mind believes we re experts on predicting it!

All that actually exists in reality is the Now Moment. It's all you have. It's all there is. Right Now, this Now Moment. Experience comes in to our Now, and leaves are Now, and we are always in Now.

It can be an antidote to:


Depression. If you truly accept that the past is over and the future doesn't exist, then what has come before Now, apart from all the amazing skills and positive learning you have gained from it, is irrelevant. Your father beat you as a child, why does that mean you can't be happy now? You are no longer a child and your father no longer has that threat over you. Things are different Now. A new reality can exist. You are not your past "story" - you are more than that.

Anxiety. If you truly accept that the future hasn't happened yet, it does not actually exist, and there is no way of truly predicting it, and whenever you think about it it is purely imagined, then you can no longer do worry, anxiety and fear. Just because you didn't sleep well last night, why does that mean you might not sleep tonight, and then you will be tired tomorrow? Tonight is a new Moment. it hasn't happened yet. Perhaps you will not sleep, perhaps you will. What will thinking about it beforehand do for you except make you anxious? You can give the future some space in which to unfold.

Stress. You can only ever do One Thing At A Time. Truly. Only one. You may have 100,000 things to do on your to do list - so what? You can only do one of them at a time, and then PLAN to do the rest. Positive future planning is great. Plan them, and forget about all of them except the one you are choosing to FOCUS on right now. Thinking about all the other things you have got to do whilst attempting to do one thing doesn't make you complete them any quicker. Your body just responds as if they were all happening at once, giving you the physical experience of stress. A Zen master once defined Zen as One Thing At A Time. So, do one, and do it well, and then you can do the next one. One step at a time.

What does it mean to be Living in the Now?


If you took it as deep as Tolle's message it would mean you are at one with everything around you in a state of bliss and connectedness.

In the every day practical model it means:

You have your focussed attention absolutely on what is happening here and now. Whatever you are choosing to focus your attention on right now, has your FULL attention. Whether that is running on the treadmill, planning your weekend, sitting in the botanical gardens. Your senses are open, you are seeing and hearing and feeling and focussing on what is happening here and now.


You have NO thoughts wondering into the past or future. You no longer carry your heavy past in to each situation, you leave it behind you and let it go, where it belongs. You have no need to dread the future - you trust yourself to deal with whatever presents itself in your future when and IF it does.

You treat each moment as a FRESH moment. You don't expect that just because Bob has been difficult every day this week that he is going to be difficult right now. Maybe he will, maybe he won't - you can't predict or control that anyway. You enter each moment with a freshness and deal with whatever may or may not come up.

You have a new response to what "is" - Acceptance. You stop conflicting and judging and criticising whatever it is that has manifested in your current experience: no more "shoulds", no more complaining, no more waiting for the next moment to be better than this one (when I get to Friday I will be happy! When I get home from the gym I can relax!). You accept whatever "is" in this moment in time, knowing that nothing stays the same and it will change very, very soon anyway. You say Yes to now, and enjoy what is here. Whatever is in this moment, is. As Tolle would say "the Isness of now, is the Isness of now, and that is always true". It doesn't mean you can't create something better in your life next time - it's just you stop fighting it, you accept now, knowing things will change.

The Practical Aspects of Presence


This may think this sounds like wishful thinking or "easier said than done". I agree! I am not sure what would happen to the world if we were truly living as Tolle suggests. However, there are some very simple and practical things you can do to guide your focus back into the present Now Moment, which have a very powerful effect. I will share one simple and powerful one with you here:

Whenever you notice your thoughts and your attention drifting back into your past, expecting the future to be like the past, or worrying about the future (What if...? What if..? What if....?) then bring your attention back into this present moment by asking yourself a new question:

What is the problem now?


For most of us, unless we are in prison or suffering severe pain, there is NO problem right here, right now. Right now things are, kind of OK, right?

Further Resources


The message in spiritual terms and practical terms is huge. I have done my best to summarise it for you and introduce the practical benefits of re-focussing your attention back in to any given Now Moment. It is something I could talk and write about for hours, as Tolle has. I encourage you therefore if you see value in living in a more present and mindful way in your life, to do your own personal research. Here are some resources you will find useful:

Eckhart Tolle - The Power of Now

Practicing The Power of Now

Stillness Speaks

Audio products galore!

www.eckharttolle.com

Deepak Chopra The Ultimate Happiness Prescription

I will have an audio product available for sale soon on this topic - Living in the Now.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback. Email me at charlotte@charlottehinksman.com

or visit www.charlottehinksman.com for coaching services.

With love, Charlotte.

NB: If you are experiencing serious depression and have had any suicidal thoughts, you must seek professional help as soon as possible. Please start here: www.depression.org.nz.

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