School is back in session, summer is winding down, new rhythms and routines are being learned, and new chapters of life are beginning. As things begin to take new shape, and old familiar shapes begin to reappear, I find myself reflecting on what brought me here and where I may find myself in a year or five years from now. Recently however, one thing I have really began to appreciate is that while reflection and wondering can be good, the best place to be is the present. The present is the only place where anything gets done. Whether that thing is rest or work related it happens in the present.
I find that when I am feeling anxious my thoughts are stuck in the uncertainty of the future. I do hope some people find it easy to think of the future with hope and optimism but for me it is far easier to fall down the slippery slope of worry and fear. My imagination goes out of control. I find myself playing out years and years of worst case scenarios that never even seem to have a chance for a happy ending. I don’t really know how much time I spend in these horrible, desperate fantasies of mine but I get stuck. I may only actually spend one to five minutes thinking about the future but even when I try to get back to the present I find myself still shackled to the worry. I can spend days there, weeks, even months. It will get to the point where I start to wonder why I feel the way I do and then I’ll go to my memories from childhood on to figure out how I got here just to find myself stuck in a new place.
The Past. It’s only natural for us to go back there, right? For me, it always starts with my earliest memories and feelings of security, comfort, and love. But that changes quickly. I can’t help it really. I go from the warm fuzzy memories to the cliff. That cliff is different for everyone but we all have one. It’s the place, the moment of time, where our life filled childhood got its first glimpse of death and decay. While I am certain we all responded to this moment differently I found myself stuck looking over the edge of loss and I still get stuck there today. It is like vertigo and depression wanted to play a trick on me. It’s a feeling of falling but not moving. I am just stuck in a downward spiral scared to hit bottom but also wishing I would, so it would just all stop. I will literally want to die so it will stop. But I don’t want to die. I have a family I love and who love me. I do not want to be separated from them by death. So, I will force myself to think of the things I have to live for. My wife. My Kids. Future grand-kids. The future… See where this is going?
It’s a vicious cycle. Anxiety about the future, depression of the past. Anxiety. Depression. Over and over again, for years and years. People have often told me I should live in the present, but I don’t find it easy. I am not lazy or complacent about this either. I work at it, and while I don’t know if I really need medication to keep me from spinning out, I know that has saved my life at least one time. That time was recent as well so thinking about getting off the prescriptions makes the anxiety well up within. My doctors put me on a couple of different cocktails before landing on Prozac and Lithium. I hate Lithium. It helped my suicidal thoughts and I was able to slip into the present, but every emotion was squashed. I understand “that means it’s working” but it’s no way to live long term. It also gave me the shakes and made my body twitch. I had to get off it. So, after consulting my doctor and therapist I slowly weened myself clean. I chose to use CBD oils and tinctures during this process as well as techniques of mindfulness, meditation, and probably most importantly, I refocused on the spiritual disciplines of Prayer, Worship, Fasting, Service, Bible Study, Meditation. It’s been a few weeks now, my lithium levels are virtually nonexistent, and I feel so much better.
The spiritual disciplines have been the topics of our podcast for a couple of weeks now and this is not a coincidence. I needed this and the rest of the quadcast were awesome in their wiliness to spend a few weeks on this journey together. It hasn’t always been easy and there have been times where I have failed miserably, but I have never quit. Each day I give a little bit of time intentionally recognizing God as I practice a discipline and He truly does bring peace. The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. We see the Spirit blossom, bloom, and produce fruit in our lives when we tend the vine, and we tend the vine by participating in the Spiritual Disciplines.
For some people living in the present may be easy. For people like me, it is a discipline. It requires work, intentionality, the ability to focus, and the willingness to let go. One thing I tend to do is get too focused on a task, like making my kids lunch for school. The problem is that when my child comes up to me while I am doing this with a question or needing help, I am so focused on the task that I get frustrated at the interruption. This is not good. Living in the present requires my willingness to let go of what I am currently doing so that I can pay attention to the greater needs that surround me. There were some things about mindfulness that rubbed me the wrong way when I first started learning about it. Centering myself from within didn’t sit right with me. Honestly it seemed to self-centered but now I am seeing how short sighted I was being. I start with being aware of my breath and my body, but I end with being more aware of everything that is going on around me. Now, when I sit in stillness and silence I become more aware of God’s presence within me and surrounding me as well as all the other life around. The awareness of God’s presence and the lives of the people I get to interact with becomes so encompassing that I have no time and no desire to occupy my thoughts with things of the past or the uncertainty of the future. I begin to live in the present.