Clarity in the Fog
Lao Tzu said, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
Sounds simple enough but it’s hardly easy. I’m a recovering Type-A over thinker. A quick look at my hands confirms this is part of my hard-wiring and I’ve spent decades trying to figure out how to stay present when all my big headline wants is to re-evaluate what went wrong in the past so I can strategize how to have a better future.
Not long ago I awoke to a profound fog. When I opened the front door I could barely see the parking lot a mere 7 feet in front of me. The dogs and I embarked on our morning jaunt anyway. When you have dogs, you don’t get much of a choice in the matter, which is one of the great things about having dogs, they do their best to keep you grounded and consistent.
Walking along, not being able to see more than a few feet ahead of us, I was, at first, worried. One of my dogs is sometimes confrontational with other dogs and my neighbors have a habit of letting their dogs run free. I was unnerved at the possibility of being set upon by a nipping, charging, barking little dog and within minutes was trying to shut down the dire imaginings that popped into my mind. My body was in in full stress mode – breathing harder, clenching my teeth and trying desperately to see what couldn’t be seen ahead of me or behind me.
That’s when I realized the insanity of the situation. Nothing I could do would change the status of the fog. Although I couldn’t see the pond, or the street, or the trees, they were still there. That’s what I knew to be true. The possibility of a rogue dog was just that, a possibility. Certainly something to deal with if it happened, but the probability was low that I’d have to deal with it. Why worry about something that was not happening in that moment? Perhaps I was attached to the drama of anxiety?
How many times do I do this in a given day or week? Every single second spent worrying about something that might happen (or, more likely will never happen) is time wasted, so why do it? My theory is that the idea of sitting still with my own thoughts is so immeasurably scary that I’d rather slide into the anxiety of prognosticating a dire future or fill my mind with less than glamorous hindsight in order to avoid facing myself in the moment.
It’s not so much a theory as a reality actually. The first time I ever tried to sit still in meditation I nearly hyperventilated. I told myself that was because I was trying to follow a recommended breathing exercise, but the truth is that I couldn’t stand the repetitive thoughts about myself. You know the usual – how I look too frumpy, how I talk too much, how I’m not a good enough daughter/sister/girlfriend/dog-mom – until one sweet second when the onslaught of chatter stopped and I really was still.
That chatter was there to keep me from that one, blissful moment of being present. It was my ego providing the nonstop commentary in order to keep me from recognizing the truth that in that one moment, everything was actually okay. I wish I could tell you that the skies opened and unicorns fell from the sky with rainbow kisses, ensuring that in every moment from that moment on I would be in complete harmony with the wisdom of the present. That didn’t happen. What happened is that I chose to believe there might be “something” to the idea of stillness and listening to what’s really going on inside my heart. I chose to find time to try the exercise again and again. I’ve also found myself in my own version of the Fire Swamp with the never ending trials of flame spurts, lightning sand and R.O.U.S.’s. In every instance of the good and the nasty I’ve done whatever I could to get back to the truth of being present.
The way I see it (thanks to the insight and brilliance of many shining teachers and spiritual texts) there are only two options in any situation – to be in fear/dark or to be in love/light. When I focus on the present and finding the light in that one split second, I am granted the grace to be in truth and away from fear. It’s from that space that I move forward, even if I can’t see three feet in front of me on some days.
Written by: Peggie Arvidson
Peggie Arvidson, the Pragmatic Palmist is a healer, teacher and soul coach as well as the founder of The Profitable Alchemist Academy. She’s helped thousands of people connect with their life purpose and put it to work for them through private readings, small group classes and individual coaching programs. You can learn more & sign up to receive your free mini-reading at PeggieArvidson.com. She’s also available for private sessions at Rising Phoenix Holistic Center in downtown Manassas, VA.