?Writing [and life!] is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. ~ E.L. Doctorow
When I’m going through a stressful experience, my first tendency is to project myself into the future, exploring all the possible outcomes and what I would do in each case. There’s a certain amount of comfort in this, but the trick is to learn when to stop! Once you have a basic sense of the possibilities, it’s time to pull back into the current moment or, as a friend of mine says: this 24 hours.
Right now I’m heading back to court with my ex-husband. The details aren’t really important, but the overall situation is one of financial uncertainty, acrimony and fear. My mind is having a heyday with this, imagining disastrous outcomes and trying to figure out and control what is patently uncontrollable. When I go down that rabbit hole, I feel instant anxiety, anger, panic, despair.
Not fun—and not even helpful. Those imagined things aren’t happening to me now, and might very well never happen. Even if they did, my distress right now won’t help me to deal with them in the future. That same friend once gave me a great visual touchstone for how to remain anchored to the present moment, even in the midst of uncertainty and fear.
She was on a motorcycle with her husband on the winding Blue Ridge Parkway (no guard rails, steep drop offs) when a thick fog and rain descended. With zero visibility, she was terrified that they would fly off the side of the mountain at any moment, and yet there was no safe place to stop and wait it out. As they cautiously made their way down, she kept repeating to herself: Right now, in this moment, I’m safe. Right now, in this moment, I’m safe.
In reality, we never know what’s going to happen in the next moment—even when we think we do. We only ever know for sure about the moment we’re currently experiencing. Am I okay right now, in this moment? Yes, I am. Right now I have enough money to meet my needs. Right now I’m warm and safe and dry and well fed. I have some contingency plans in place as a sop to my mind’s most pressing fears (because I’m still human, after all).
Court cases can drag out for a long time. I don’t want to give away my happiness and peace of mind for the next several weeks or months, and so I pull my mind back, continually, to this 24 hours. What is happening right now? That’s all that I need to respond to, and all that I have a hope of influencing anyway. Just this 24 hours.