In order to live, we must feel. Only if we experience pain can we experience joy, along with the smaller pleasures and sorrows that lie in between. And most of life, even most of life in the present is concerned not with “big” events or emotions, but with ordinary ones. – Stephen Rechtschaffen. (Time Shifting; Creating More Time to Enjoy Your Life)
My wife has a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brought about by some childhood trauma that was left untreated for nearly a decade. We’ve been together for nearly 20 years now and I’ve seen her through most of the healing process. She was mis-diagnosed a few years before we met as bi-polar but at that point she was just trying to survive, the real healing didn’t start until after we were married. I am happy to report that after a lot of trial and error (and hard work and heart ache) we finally got the diagnosis and treatment plan right. With the proper balance of medications and therapy she’s doing much better now.
This past week I stumbled across this book from Dr. Stephen Rechtschaffen. I say I stumbled across it because when it first came across my radar it was presented to me as a book on time management. So starting the New Year and getting organized for some new projects I figured what better time to read about time management. The fact is this isn’t a book about time management at all I’d better describe it as a book about the spirituality of time.
You cannot “manage” time, it just is. Everyone get’s the same number of minutes each day, you can choose how you use those minutes but to say you are somehow in control of time itself, which is what management means, is simply impossible. What Rechtschaffen is really saying in this book is that we need to shift our understanding of time and begin it experience it in a deeper, more permanent and spiritual sense. One of the ways we do that is by allowing our emotions to run their natural course.
Sufferers of PTSD, and other anxiety related illnesses are unable to live in present time. They are either stuck in the past, reliving a traumatic event over and over again, or they are focused on a perceived stress at some point in the future. When my wife began to unpack her emotions we quickly discovered this to be the case, early on I would often reminder her to stop living in the future and concentrate on what was going on now. While can you prepare for things that haven’t happened yet you can only do so much and dwelling on it only serves to diminish your enjoyment of life now. Constantly thinking about something that hasn’t happened yet robs you of the present moment and in a very real way shortens your life.
It’s not just PTSD sufferers who experience this. I believe that to a certain degree our entire society is too focused on past or future events and not enough focused on the present and I think a lot of it stems from our unwillingness to truly experience our emotions, especially the negative ones. “Get over it” is the mantra of our day. We fear pain so much that we rush past any negative thought or feeling and spend much of our time stressing about how to avoid future pain without ever taking the time to understand it. It is only through experience that we can begin to understand and only through understanding that we can grow and learn the most effective ways to avoid or mitigate pain in the future. And the funny thing is; the actual experience is never as bad as the anticipation.
Jesus has some interesting things to say about worry and living in the present moment too.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. [Matthew 6:25:34]
You see, the point is, in order to fully experience life we must stop dwelling on the past or worrying about tomorrow. I love the way Jesus focuses on the present and brings everything into perspective. “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Of course not! “do not worry about tomorrow… Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Just live now.