Often during my Mindfulness Seminars a very interesting discussion arises which is invoked by a quote on a slide which states:
If you’re depressed you’re living in the past
If you’re anxious you’re living in the future.
If you are at peace you’re living in the present moment.
I’m not saying I agree or disagree with the quote but the words do promote a very deep insightful discussion among my clients and there is definitely plenty of room to explore this concept.
Through my experience of working in mental health over 15 years, I think there is some truth in it, as many sufferers of depression can be a bit stuck in the past, while many anxiety sufferers are catastrophising about the future, but I do recognise that this is not the gospel truth. Mental health has many complexities and there is definitely plenty of scope for discussion and debate on this.
Another really interesting question arises from this:
Does anxiety actually exist in the present moment?
What do you think? Is it possible and be anxious and in the present moment at the same time?
I don’t believe there is a black and white answer for this but the more we look at anxiety, the more we discover it is often (not always) about a ‘thought’ of another place and time, often in the future.
Let’s say you have to give a big presentation in a few weeks time, it is common to feel nervous and anxious days and hours before the presentation. During the presentation you may feel anxious but it is more about a future event, such as forgetting your lines, or being judged by your peers afterwards or stumbling your words. In the present moment you are doing your best to deliver the talk but in your mind you might have a perceived fear about a bad outcome in the future.
Just like skydiving, the fear and anxiety all arise weeks, days and hours before the event but actually once you pull the chute you notice you are in a state of absolute bliss. Everything up to stepping out of the plane is actually 100% safe, so why were you feeling anxious in your bed the night before. This is beautifully illustrated in this short video by Will Smith.
Perhaps, anxiety and fear cannot exist together in the present moment?
One person asked during a seminar….what about being chased by a grizzly bear? Well yes, we will probably feel fear and anxiety in moment that you run away from the bear, but really the fear is more about what will happen if it catches you (future)…and in reality, in the present moment, you are only running!!
When we practice mindfulness we develop a deeper awareness on ‘what is’ happening in the present moment and not the ‘what if’ scenarios. What if this happens, what if that happens, what if I can’t, what if ………??? Mindfulness training makes us more aware of our thoughts in the present moment through focussing on our senses.
I’m not saying that mindfulness is the ‘be all and end all ‘ answer to curbing anxiety and I don’t think there is a clear-cut answer on this, but it is definitely an interesting discussion. I would love to hear your viewpoint on this.