I’m not typically an anxious person. In normal times, I worry about what-ifs, but not to a paralyzing extent.
Lately, though, I struggle. I’m already prone to living inside my head. This is mostly fine when the world isn’t on fire (though, I’ve realized lately, the world is always on fire, but as Haruki Murakami wrote in 1Q84, “If you belong to the majority, you can avoid lots of troubling things.”) Right now, though? I don’t have to tell you what things are like right now. And spending time inside my head doesn’t always take me to great places.
I find myself in a low state more often than I’m comfortable with. In 2020, everywhere we turn, something terrible is happening. If I manage to redirect my attention from Covid, racism, ecological and financial devastation, and threats to our democracy, I find myself wishing for things I can’t have — dinner in a restaurant, travel, a cup of coffee in a cafe with my husband. These unfulfillable wishes only pile on the sadness.
It takes more work to corral my mind these days. I’ve maintained a writing practice for months, but even there I’m in my head, focused on thoughts, feelings, and abstracts rather than color, texture, scent, presence.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to change that. We were on vacation at a sparsely populated beach. A tropical storm had just passed. Despite being safely through the storm and in one of my favorite places on earth — where land and sea meet — I found myself squandering the limited time I had in this place I had so desperately wanted to get to. I caught myself staring out the window at the Atlantic Ocean and not even seeing it. My mind was on fears and worries and wishes.
I started coffee to brew, dug around in my bag for a notebook and a pen, tucked my hair into a hat, and went out to the beach. It was morning. The light was peach, the breeze fresh. Nobody was around except beachcombers walking the swash zone looking for seashells, and I sat in the sand and wrote. I wrote the birds, the waves, the wind, the brightly colored houses. I wrote the taste of my coffee, the feel of the sand, the smell of the ocean, and the sounds of water washing up on land.
When I finished, I closed my notebook and sipped my coffee. I felt good. Grounded. Filled with the beauty and energy of the world.
Since we returned home, I’ve continued this practice. Every day, either in the morning with my coffee or in the evening after I close my laptop, I pull myself out of my head and into my body: I scribble a page dedicated to the moment I’m in. Even if every time I sit down to write it is 6:30 am, and I’m in the chaise lounge by the front window with my coffee in the windowsill and the cat plopping down on my notebook as soon as I get situated, I do this. I write the present moment through my senses — what I see, smell, taste, hear, and feel.
This has helped me. My mind still wanders even while I write, and I have to bring it back. But through this practice, I am able to tap into the realness and beauty in each moment for those few minutes each day. I observe my surroundings more deeply (because I get bored writing the same thing every dang day): I notice changes in light, quiet sounds in the house, animal patterns.
This practice also helps me change my perspective (because I get bored writing the same thing every dang day) so that I pay attention from different places. This morning, I sat in the chair my son usually sits in at the kitchen table, and I saw our house from a completely different point of view. I saw what he sees every time he eats a bowl of Reeses Puffs or toast with tahini and molasses. I saw the art on the wall I gave my husband on our anniversary last year; I rarely see it because I don’t usually sit somewhere that I can. Or if I do, I don’t pay attention.
My anxiety and worries haven’t gone away, nor have the problems of the world. Writing the moment has helped me cope, though, and that’s something good, right?
Gentle Rain is an example from a here and now/write this moment session.