Against anxiety: how I’m practicing the present moment

As I mentioned in my post on holiday reading, I end/start every calendar year by reading The Sacrament of the Present Moment by Jean-Pierre de Caussade. It is one of the most profound in-the-daily-living sense books I’ve read and reading it always stills me and gives me a sense of peace in my midst of my near-constant anxiety.

I decided this year to be more focused about taking this book’s teachings with me throughout the year, and I have to say that January 2019 has been pretty wonderful so far. Wonderful mentally-speaking. I wanted to pull out and examine some of my favorite passages since I’ve made three of them into mantras that I speak to myself daily.

Mantra 1: “I am open to and equipped to handle whatever today brings.”

Every morning as I wake up or move through my morning, I speak this to myself. It’s amazing how calming the effect this mantra has on me. I am no longer in a constantly defensive mental state, trying to anticipate and set up defenses against whatever threats may come my way. It has also helped me to accept arising conflicts or challenges a little more detached, as they are just part of my day. Those challenges are not reflections of me and my lack of worth or ability, but are simply part of life and part of what today brings to me that I need to deal with. It’s a tough mental habit to break, but I’m getting so much better at not freaking out or instantly doubting my ability to solve issues when they arise.

Mantra 2: “I am responsible for only and all of what I need to do today.”

“[Those who live in the present moment] are active in everything needed for the fulfilment of their duty to the present moment, but passive and submissive and self-forgetting in everything else; only meekly waiting on the divine will.”

I tend to get very stressed out when I have a list of things to do that can’t be accomplished in one day. I try to get as much done as possible as early as possible in the day or week or weekend to try to ward off anxiety. While this is a generally good and productive strategy, I tend to get very anxious if some tasks pass over to the next day. This mantra both helps me focus on the day’s tasks (rather than looking at the whole of what I need to do) and reduces stress as the tasks I focus on are all able to be taken care of today. If they turn out not to be, then they weren’t part of today’s tasks.

Mantra 3: “Anything that happens to me today is part of my perfection.”

“You seek perfection and it lies in everything that happens to you.”

This is probably my favorite one. Christian mystics talked a lot about being “perfected,” but not in the perfectionist, unattainable way. For them, perfection was becoming more and more aligned with God and maybe even achieving unity with God (something only a few devotees and practitioners were able to attain). To me, perfection means something akin to that, but mostly in the realm of authenticity and betterment. This mantra reminds me that everything I encounter either presents a challenge that, when I overcome it (a la Mantra 1), I will be stronger and better equipped for the life ahead. It also reminds me that every day has an opportunity for me to use the gifts and talents I have to make the world a better place.

Making a habit of speaking these to myself at the start of every day and regularly throughout has made me more centered, more focused, and more clear-headed. While there are some external reasons for this (IN A MUCH LESS TOXIC WORK ENVIRONMENT WOO HOO!), I really do credit my practice of these mantras and my putting on of these general attitudes to boosting my mental well-being. As Eviatar Shulman describes a basic claim in early Buddhist philosophy, “mind is conditioned to experience reality in a particular way; mental attitudes forge the very structure of experience.” (108) (Mindfulness, or how Philosophy Becomes Perception)

Of course none of these are magic bullets, but honestly, having these mental attitudes has made my life significantly easier. I’m not nearly as much in my own way. In some ways, I think these are not just new mantras, but reversal mantras. I think I’ve been speaking the opposite of these to myself every day for years, without realizing I was speaking such negativity and doubt into my life. The messages we take from others, from the world, and from our own doubts are perniciously hidden and destructive sometimes. It takes work to have a healthy, positive, happy mental life (especially towards our selves), and I’m grateful for this little book that has given me some tools for tackling my mental traps and toxic self-beliefs.

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