This morning we woke up at 5 in the morning to watch the spectacular sunrise over the 1000’s of ancient pagodas in Bagan, Myanmar. On the way there I fell off our bike in the dark, and scratched up my hands on the gravel. It was embarrassing but it was dark so no-one saw. We climbed to the very top of one of the pagodas and watched the sunrise and took photos.
Then we can back home to sleep for a little while, before heading back out for a new adventure. I really tried to sleep. I convinced myself that I could fall back asleep. But I just didn’t. I spent a while staring at Julien’s back while he snored. Boredom propelled me to pick up my phone and scroll for a while.
I stopped at a post by my friend Dane Tomas, who wrote about the tendency to project oneself into the future, constant planning, scheming, hoping, intending, focusing, designing and so on. He encouraged awareness of the push, and the rush and the disconnection created by being too much in the future, and insightfully went on to articulate how this creates a feeling of rushing into what is ahead, never being fully present and creating a sense of stress.
It was one of those profound posts that struck me in my heart, as they do when we read something that reflects a part of ourselves. It is something I have identified in myself, but couldn’t quite find the words for. He did.
We got up, went and had breakfast: fried rice, samosas, eggs and a banana for Julien; a cup of coffee, a piece of toast with sliced banana and strawberry jam and tea, for me. We jumped back on our bike to explore the pagodas some more. Every single one of them, was spectacular in a different way, and I could feel the magic of this ancient culture touch pieces of my soul and weave their stories into my body as we went deeper and deeper into the mystic jungle.
Throughout our adventure, I couldn’t stop thinking about my new-found understanding.
I have spent years and year, clearing up the debris of my past, letting go, forgiving, absolving, healing. When I look behind me I see peace, I see clarity, I see acceptance and I see love. I thought I had reached some kind of pinnacle of spiritual practice and presence, because, unlike many around me, I was no longer tethered to my past. I felt free. Pulling myself back to presence is something that I’m really good at.
However, a new imbalance crept in.
When I started my business I began projecting all my dreams, ideas, aspirations and projects into the future, claiming that spending so much time in the future instead in the present was necessary in order to be successful and get work done. I had the perfect practical logical-mind excuse why I didn’t have to practice presence so much. I believed that I have to choose productivity over presence, and that productivity lies in future-thinking.
In hindsight, I recognise this as a blind spot. An area where I have been tricking myself.
I had a very stressful childhood, and throughout my life, have found various ways to perpetuate this stress, because it was my “normal”. Normal feels safe, it feels comfortable, it feels familiar. Normal, however does not mean healthy, or balanced or right. In the past I created stress through relationships (hey, crazy drug-dealing boyfriends!), through travel (it cultivates its own kinds of stress), through spontaneous, risky choices.
Then I realised that stress was an addiction, and not a healthy or natural addiction at that, so I changed, a lot. Today’s post made me realise that I still had some more work to do in this area: creating stress through future-thinking. There’s always more layers to this onion.
One of my intentions for this year was to feel more relaxed. I’m a laid-back, go-with-the-flow, intuitive person, and I’m also very sensitive and committed to my self-growth, and was fully aware of certain type of anxiety that my body still holds. I couldn’t pinpoint it until today.
It is the tendency to allow my mind to spend time in the future (with excitement) savouring magical ideas, plans and dreams (typical dreamer and creative tendencies) instead of being present. Pulling myself back from that brings about a profound sense of relief and relaxation in the body, because that is when we are truly “home”.
I thought about all these things while riding around the magical pagodas of Bagan, finding myself with a deep sense of clarity and reassurance, when suddenly lightning and thunder rumbled around us, arriving out of nowhere. Within minutes it started to rain. And then pour. We made our way back towards home as fast as we could, and spent the next 30 minutes under a pelting sky, being drenched to the skin, laughing.
Back in our hotel room, lying on my bed, writing and trying to warm up, I am left with powerful sense of knowing what to do. It is incredibly comforting to realise that I no longer have to rely on future-thinking to create what I want, and that I can, instead trust life enough, to relax into my body, and enjoy being present. It seems to be a common thread for many of us currently. For the past few years I thought I had to choose productivity over presence, in the guise of future-thinking.
I am making a commitment to stop. There is only one way that I know how to devote myself to being here and now, in my body and mind. It is a moment-to-moment practice, where every time my mind drifts elsewhere I bring it back, and pay attention to what I am doing, and what I am feeling right now. I know there is immeasurable freedom, expansion and richness in this practice. I know that when I let go of the panic of what might happen in the future, when I stop trying to negotiate it at all times, I am robbed of what I am here to do: to live, to truly live, which only happens in the present moment.