One of the moments in life that brings me pure joy is to look into the eyes of an infant and with such perfect attunement they track me and smile back at me that toothless grin. Time passes with lots of funny faces, shrieks and giggles. Those kinds of moments could go on forever, yet the realities of my day pull me back into the business and messiness of life. The to do lists, the repairs, the work, the worries pull me out of the present and often into the future. Have you asked yourself lately am I living in the present moment?
I have worked with couples for many years and I observed in their rush to get to solutions they often missed opportunities to connect in the present moment. Feeling flooded with various emotions, one or the other’s mind was racing to figure out whose fault it was, how to protect themselves from the anticipated onslaught, or thinking, “Oh no, here we go again and what’s the point?” In these moments, they were not listening to their partner or seeking with curiosity to understand their point of view or acknowledging the emotion being expressed. Rather, they were flooded with thoughts from past failed attempts or fearing this negative outcome would be a predictor of their future together. The point is without even noticing it, they had exited the present moment going back to memories of the past or jumping ahead to worries about the future.
As a marriage and family therapist, I help couples slow down their dance around connection. They discover this whole new space in the present moment where vulnerability and empathy are powerful tools fueling connection and often healing past hurts or reassuring fears or insecurities. My first goal in treatment is to restore safety. If our amygdalas are too busy firing, then we exit our prefrontal cortex and go to three simple protective solutions: fight, flight or freeze.
If your partner is coming at you full force with criticism, it makes sense that you may feel defensive. If your partner ignores your bid for connection and leaves the room, then naturally over time you may feel rejected. If your partner shuts down, becomes overwhelmed and just doesn’t know what to do, you may feel lonely and long for a sense of team effort. One of the best solutions to these often-occurring challenges is to learn how to connect with our partner in the present while remembering to be respectful, share appreciation, and share feelings without casting blame.
The tool I most often share with my clients initially when asking them to practice living mindfully is to practice tuning into their five senses. Choosing an activity that you already do daily such as showering or brushing your teeth, practice at these moments tuning into your sense of taste, touch, smells, sight and sound. After spending a few minutes tuning into your senses, complete a body scan taking note of any sensations in your body. Label the feeling you have in the present moment such as, “I am feeling sad, overwhelmed or calm,” and then label the thought such as, “I am having the thought, ‘I am going to be late’,” or, “I am having the thought, ‘I have no friends’,” or “I am having the thought, ‘I am so smart why don’t they listen to me’.”
When parents become afraid for their child, often they are flooded with a series of thoughts containing “What Ifs.” The time and energy is spent on worrying about the child’s future and the precious moments of connection in the present are lost. Worrying about the future does little to help solve the problems as the problems you are worrying about have not actually occurred. Schedule time in your day to worry about the present problems, come up with measurable solutions and then let go of the problem until the scheduled time tomorrow. Be sure when considering solutions to make note if the focus is only on correction or control rather than on connection. Whether you choose to focus on your breath, practice meditation, go on a mindful walk or take time out to play and laugh together, you will find that living in the present moment brings an increased sense of peace and hope. When you find yourself in a relaxed state it is more likely for you be creative, find solutions and to connect in loving ways with your child.
Increasing your ability to live in the present moment takes practice. Those of us who take the time to practice, find that when we are in moments of distress or we are not connecting with our partner or child, we become increasingly aware of our own thoughts, feelings and actions and how those are impacting the other person. We then consciously make a choice to respond in new ways, communicate more clearly and effectively and enjoy increased moments of meaningful connection. I never said it would be easy but it is always worth it!