“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” Lao Tzu
The first time I saw this quote, I was blown away by the simplicity and the wisdom. I wanted to share it. I put in on my Instagram newsfeed. I felt like it perfectly explained the origin of those three emotions.
So… people that live in the past might say something like “I wish things were the way they used to be” and feel depressed. And then they may think “I bet that it will never be as good as it used to be” and feel anxious. The future in uncertain. It’s not guaranteed.
If peace is in the present moment, then that’s the place to be, right? You don’t have to be a yogi or Zen master to experience it but at the same time, I think it takes work. It’s like worry and anxiety are the default so anything else takes effort.
I say this as a generally happy person. And maybe because I expect to be happy I feel super let down when something comes along that wipes away my sunny outlook. I go through periods of time where I feel heavy anxiety and there doesn’t always seem to be a specific thing that caused it. Everything can be going pretty well, and BOOM. There it is. For me, it’s anxiety more than depression.
When I didn’t feel peace in the past, my go-to method of trying to induce peace would be to distract myself. I distracted myself with wine, sweets, or vacations. We lived in Germany at the time and it was affordable and easy to travel to amazing places. However, I figured out that you can’t “induce” peace. I would say that you can induce being comfortably numb. That’s really what I was accomplishing. Well, besides gaining an 15 extra pounds. Oh- and there were panic attacks too. It’s true, you really do feel like you are dying.
Then I went through a growth phase in my life. I learned how to better manage my thoughts and emotions. I learned about how thoughts create emotions and that we don’t have to believe every thought that we have. It was actually really helpful. Even more helpful were the principles that I learned and applied to my marriage- stuff I’d never heard in counseling or in relationship books. Stuff that actually made a difference! Through the combination of those things, I was able to learn how to be in the present moment.
Being in the present moment is not the same thing as settling for some crap circumstance or endlessly enduring pain but it doesn’t mean blissful happiness either. It means that in this very moment, you are here. You are not fighting what is. If you are breathing, you are here. You can only be here when you accept that things are the way they are right now, not thinking about the past or the future. And don’t get me wrong- I don’t mean that you would do this in a defeated or “f*ck it” kind of way, but in a way that says “I’m done fighting”.
Give up trying to control other people or circumstances and shift back to yourself, in the here and now. You can even reassure yourself with thoughts like “Nothing has gone wrong” or “Everything is the way it is supposed to be right now”. Even when it doesn’t look like good news. Even when your heart is breaking.
When you embrace acceptance instead, you shift your role. You go from being at the mercy of your circumstance to being the master of it. You can examine it and study it. You can let it be your teacher, even for a lesson you didn’t want to learn.
In the middle of a fight? Got a difficult child?
- Release control of others and let go of resistance.
- Accept the present circumstance/ person.
- Find the lesson.
- Reframe perspective accordingly.
Rinse and repeat.
Finding peace can take many layers of doing this process and it’s worth the effort.
What is one area of your life you want to experience peace? Try the four steps I listed above. Let me know how it goes.