I believe that one of our greatest (and most difficult) life lessons as human beings is learning to live in the present. Our minds are conditioned to either get stuck in our past experiences; reliving them, fearing their recurrence, wondering how things could have gone differently…or to become obsessed with our future; planning for it, worrying about it, wondering where we will end up. Our brains produce up to 50,000 or more thoughts per day and 95% percent of those thoughts are repetitive. I first heard this statistic in a yoga class and I have repeated it several times in my own classes because of how startling it is. If our minds are trapped in the past which cannot be changed, or the future which has not yet happened, how can we truly be present with where we are right now?
Of course, we have to be easy on ourselves and accept that we are human and realistically this concept is not something we are going to master overnight or perhaps even in this lifetime. But we can do our best to work towards being in the present as often as possible and practices like yoga, meditation and mindfulness constantly remind us to stay present and observe each moment. The first step of course is awareness. Just recognizing our tendencies to get caught up in our thoughts, allowing them to take us into the past or the future can be quite a powerful realization. But how do we develop this awareness? For me, it has been slowing down and opening myself up to hearing what is really there…and let me tell you, that has been a difficult and sometimes terrifying process.
It’s easy to distract ourselves from our thoughts, our emotions, our fears by keeping ourselves constantly busy. And sometimes that is needed. But if we refuse to acknowledge and confront what is underneath the day to day stuff, we will never experience the healing and growth that we need and deserve. Taking a solo trip back to Asia for five weeks was my way of forcing myself to confront some of the fears and anxieties that have been haunting me since my trip to Bali and Thailand last year. During that three-month trip, I experienced deeper levels of loneliness, sadness and anxiety than ever before in my life. I don’t regret my decision to return home, but it left me feeling like a failure. I really had no “home” to return to, only my mother’s house in a town where I knew no one and had no connection to. It has taken me more than nine months to rebuild what I had walked away from and I am now finally at the point where I am financially and emotionally stable enough to return to my home and community in Denver.
I have never really been the type of person to dwell in my past, I have always been more of the dreamer focusing much of my thoughts around my future. But things shifted for me after my experience last year. I found my mind continuing to return to the past…questioning whether I had made the right decision in the first place moving overseas, what I could have done differently, why things happened the way they did and of course fearing that I would have to relive that pain and heartbreak the next time I opened my heart to someone.
And it’s funny how things work out. Shortly after making my decision to return home to Denver earlier this year, I met someone who I began to have feelings for. Except this time it was different than ever before. This time there was an overwhelming amount of fear that accompanied the feelings of joy, happiness and excitement. I constantly tortured myself with thoughts about “what if” and spent many nights in my own personal agony. I did my best to resist the feelings that were developing because I knew that I would soon be leaving to move back home and my biggest fear was having to relive that painful day when I left Denver last year. Not only that but I had finally begun to relax into my experience in Arizona and I started getting close with a few of my yoga students. I was starting to feel like I had a community there. So many parallels to last year began to line up. I was about to walk away from people I suddenly cared about to start over somewhere new. And I had a five-week trip to India planned that was quickly approaching before I said my goodbyes. I began to feel the loneliness, sadness and anxieties from last year return. I considered cancelling my trip altogether and even researched the costs that would entail. But something inside of me knew that I had to go through with it. I kept reminding myself that even with all the similarities, this was a different experience than last year. I was only going overseas for a short amount of time, and afterward returning to my true home where I would be welcomed with open arms by so many people I love. This was my opportunity to re-write my story.
And here I am, a month into my trip. I’d be lying if I said it has been easy. I have had moments of sadness, loneliness and even panic. I have considered rebooking my flight to come home earlier. But this time I have a support system that I didn’t feel like I had last year. And as the weeks have gone on, I have felt stronger and more grounded each day. The fears have not disappeared, but I am finally beginning to see them for what they really are. A fabrication of my own creation. Our minds are so powerful in convincing us of things that are not reality. I know that this is not end of my battle; I will have difficult days even after I return from India. But all I can do is keep moving forward. Continuing to remind myself that the past is the past. It has helped to shape who I am and what I want, but it is time to leave my past experiences behind me. It is time to be here now. To soak in each moment of each day. To be present with my reality right now. And to remember that this is a practice that I will be working on for the rest of my time on this earth and probably well beyond that.