Minnesota's co-op op-ed page
This season is inevitably packed with opportunities for reflection – holidays, time with family, and the coming of a new year. For me, a birthday is also inserted into that week of reflection.
A concept that keeps coming back to me over the past year and, oddly enough, with this catchphrase, is this: Must be present to win. It’s true for raffles, and according to ancient eastern philosophy and science, it is also true for life.
While consideration of being present and focus on the moment is not something new to me, it is something I find that I must repeatedly attend to and remind myself of. The western world readily embraces this concept when it comes to enjoying falling in love or traveling to a new place, but we neglect to take the concept as a whole. We most often choose escapism as the philosophy of choice when we lose that love or when we must address our own darkness.
The problem is that being present doesn’t work selectively. In our darkest times, escapism is like holding on to a roadmap but refusing to look at our surroundings to find the way home. It is during these times in which the challenge to be present and believe that there will eventually be light at the end of tunnel is truly tested.
I am writing this as much as a reminder for myself as I am for others, because I have not perfected the art of presence. I spent most of the summer of 2013 in a very dark place, but what I did differently than during the dark times further in the past was to work consciously to be present with my sorrow, to acknowledge that it was valid to feel the way I did, and to make myself sit with it rather than try to distract myself from it as soon as my emotions got a bit difficult to deal with. I’m not going to lie; it was unpleasant. Eventually, though, I began to find strength to create focus on ways to make myself more whole, to find things other than my sorrow to be present with, in this case a dichotomous combination – Zen meditation and Krav Maga.
In hindsight, choosing to be present with my own darkness functioned practically as choosing contentment. It was a choice to trust my own strength and resilience even when those parts of myself didn’t feel all that real. Being present required me to acknowledge that even when some parts of my life weren’t going as planned, I was still very blessed. It required me to keep my own suffering in perspective both in the scope of my life as a whole but also in the scope of the suffering that courses through the human experience.
When I emerged from this darkness, I found myself able to better manage my perspective and better able to be present in good times but also able to worry less about where those good times might be leading or what would happen if they stopped being so good. I was able to look squarely at the worst case scenario outcome of most situations and say to myself, “Even then, I would be okay.”
Being present in dark times, in times of loss, and when things didn’t go how I thought I wanted them to go allows me to choose contentment in all times. It allows me give and love more freely with less of a need for return and to trust my own strength and wholeness to be an effective foundation for when life shakes me up a bit.
So in 2014 my mantra will be “must be present to win.”
Feel free to join me, if you’d like. If you do, I’d be willing to bet on the odds that you win.