“Look deep into the other person’s eyes,” the instructor said quietly, soothingly from the front of the room. “Just stay in the moment. Notice any thoughts you may have. Look away if you need to, but then come back.”
This was spoken at a training I attended one Monday last fall, all in an effort to keep my clinical social work license. Although I’m not currently practicing, the time, effort, and dread over ever having to take another licensure exam in my lifetime has motivated me enough to make sure I have all my continuing education credits every two years.
So that’s why I now found myself on a Monday morning, with very little coffee, staring awkwardly at the stranger next to me, engaging in an exercise that was entirely too uncomfortable for my introverted self.
From the front of the room, the instructor continued, “Notice any judgments that cross your mind, let that thought go, and then come back.”
Judgments? I think. My mind vacillates between the two thoughts: I can’t stand trainings where you’re required to participate against your will and my mother’s voice reminding me: “Don’t stare at strangers!”
After what felt like an hour, but was probably closer to five minutes, the trainer ended the torture, or exercise, and moved on to share why she chose to have us do it.
I quickly pull out my phone and text my good friend Julie, “Why, oh why, do trainers think that doing multiple exercises with the person next to you that you do not know is a good idea? Seriously, this introverted girl hates that. Just give me the info. And get me out!”
After I explain the specifics of the exercise, she replies,“Ha! What kind of quack training are you at???!!! Awkward isn’t the word: creepy is a better word. Weirdo therapist touchy-feely exercises.”
I smile. Now that is the affirmation I needed.
I put my phone away and begin to listen again. The facilitator goes on to share how hard it is for individuals to stay “in the moment.” I start to listen more intently as what she is saying actually starts making sense.
“Studies have shown that about 47 percent of Americans spend most of their time thinking about the future, whether that’s tonight, tomorrow, or even next year,” she said. “The other half of us spend most of our time thinking about the past.”
She went on to explain just how challenging it is to just be in the moment — hence the incredibly awkward exercise of staring into a stranger’s eyes.
But what she said next got my attention: “People who spend all their time thinking about the past suffer mostly from depression and people who spend most of their time thinking only about the future suffer mostly from anxiety.”
I was struck by how true these statements are. Depression makes sense if you’re constantly thinking about the past, especially when we can’t change or alter things that have happened. And anxiety seems logical if I’m only ever thinking about the future, worrying about what is to come, wondering what is next.
I found myself driving home that day wondering how I spend most of my time. I came to the realization that I probably don’t spend a lot of it in the present. And it made me want to try.
In fact, just a few minutes later, when my kids and I had our lunch outside, instead of cleaning up quickly like I normally do, I laid down next to my daughter who was quietly staring at the sky while eating her Popsicle. My son Abe came and laid on the other side of me and we talked about the trees above us and the shapes of the clouds as they blew by. Although it only lasted a few minutes, I was intentional in keeping my mind focused on the here and now and it felt good.
I was reminded again just how often in scripture God encourages not to worry or be afraid. In Psalm 34:18 it states, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” And Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast all your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”
Time and again God tells us that he loves us, will take care of us, and will provide for all our needs. I was struck again by how amazing his love is for me. That he looks past all my old mistakes, forgives me, and offers me freedom from being depressed over things I’ve done. And not just the past — I don’t have to worry about the future, either, because the Bible says that the very hairs of my head are numbered and that he will never leave me or forsake me. I have freedom to really be where I am, today, confident that he is here, too. Freedom, in Christ, to be “in the moment.”
And that is a good thing.