"What they undertook to do they brought to pass; All things hang like a drop…
Thoughts on Living Wisely Today
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or to anticipate troubles but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” – Buddha, spiritual leader from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded (c.563 B.C.E.-483 B.C.E.)
We do ourselves a disservice if we allow ourselves to remain mired in both recriminations and regrets about the past or fixate on some yet-unattained future goal. How many times do we need to be reminding ourselves that we cannot possibly live in the past or the future? It is physically impossible and, given mankind’s inability to time travel, it is highly unlikely that we’ll ever be able to do so. Even if we were able to travel into the past, the minute we’d arrive we would be in the present. So it wouldn’t be the past at all. By the same token, if we could be zapped into the future, once we arrive there we would be living in the present.
It is such a simple concept, living in the present, and yet so many of us still can’t seem to get our minds around it. While this may primarily be seen as a difficulty that those of us in early recovery most experience, a constant focus on the past can waylay anyone in recovery, no matter how long they’ve been clean and sober. Usually, however, a fixation on the future doesn’t occur to those who’ve just entered recovery. They’re generally more preoccupied with either the past or with making it through the day in the present.
Given that we may not feel all that confident in our abilities in recovery yet, how can we deal with the tendency of our thoughts to drift toward the past or the future? Are there any tips or techniques that we can follow to ensure that we don’t get waylaid by these counterproductive thoughts?
There is a secret, and that is to learn to live wisely today. We cannot worry about the past or what we did wrong then or resulted in our doing harm to ourselves and/or others. We also cannot dwell on the what-ifs and what-must-be in the future. Both are pointless self-indulgences that do nothing for our recovery. Instead, we can and should strive to get the most out of each and every recovery-oriented task and activity that we set out to do today. Make it a point to gain something from each action we take, not in the sense of reward but from the standpoint of learning something valuable that benefits our recovery.
Here are some examples that illustrate the point. We go to daily 12-step meetings in the first few days and weeks of recovery. Instead of just occupying space in the rooms while our minds wander to thoughts of the past or elsewhere not present, make it a point to listen to what’s being said by others. Wipe all thoughts of judgment or disapproval from our minds and just be present to hear. If we open our minds to the possibility that we’ll learn something new, guess what? We’ll likely learn something new. Even if the issue being discussed or talked about is a familiar one, there’s always a new take on it. And hearing similar discussions over multiple meetings may mean that a light goes on in our heads and we finally realize how something someone else has found successful may be something that we can adapt to help us with our own current dilemma.
We can’t be expected to remember everything that happens, or, rather, that we shouldn’t force ourselves to try. One helpful technique that’s recommended by therapists and the old-timers in the rooms is to keep a journal. Write down things that happen each day, including situations where we’ve encountered a problem or issue that we didn’t know how to deal with or that we dealt with effectively. When we experience a successful outcome in dealing with a problem, make a note of the circumstances, when, where and how we dealt with it. This will form the basis for our recovery toolkit and we can add to it with each technique or strategy that we find works for us.
Why is this important? We never know when we’ll need to rely on our toolkit for something that happens that may throw us for a loop. If we have our journal or list of effective tips handy, we’ll have a ready resource to consult. That gives us a measure of self-confidence because we know that we have some tools at our disposal. We’re not left blowing in the wind with no anchor to hold onto. This is learning to live wisely today.