In the Disney movie, “The Lion King”, Simba is whining to Rafiki claiming he is a victim of things gone wrong in his life. Rafiki counsels Simba to not focus on the pain of the past because it cannot be changed. “It doesn’t matta, eets in dee pahst”, is Rafiki’s advice. Simba listens to his advice and runs off the make amends in the present moment.
The Past Can Hurt
As human beings we have the amazing ability to think about past, present and future. From early man until now, this skill has helped us survive. If primitive man saw a tiger, his experience in the past could help him determine the striped animal was a threat. Thinking of the future, he would foresee an escape plan. And in the immediate here and now moment, his brain would activate and he would run. This process ensured his survival.
In modern times our brain can be over active in perceiving threats in the past or present. Our thoughts get caught up in a lot of drama that only exists in our heads. In this process, we find ourselves dwelling over past situations or predicting catastrophes in the future. We worry about tigers that may eat our family or tigers that may be lurking around every corner even when there are no signs of tigers. Or we endlessly ruminate over bad decisions in the past about our last encounter with a tiger.
Our thoughts play on an endless loop of negative emotion creating anxiety or depression. We can’t run. We can’t act. Depression and anxiety immobilize us. So how do we get off this negative self-perpetuated track? Recent research in the mental health field supports the practice of mindfulness as a tool.
Mindfulness is an Eastern religious tradition used recently in the West as a practice to slow your brain down, unwind your emotions and focus on the present moment. Lao Tzu, a philosopher of ancient China said, “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.”
Mindfulness takes practice and patience. It is helpful to be non critical about yourself as you practice the new skill. Mindfulness is about being observant and non judgmental. It is normal for your mind to wander. When you find yourself wandering, gently bring your attention back to what you wish to focus on.
Ways to practice Mindfulness:
Music: Rock out listening to your favorite hard rock band or get caught up in the majesty of Beethoven 9th Symphony.
Scents: Light scented candles, wear an exotic perfume or bake aromatic chocolate chip cookies. Smells have a power ability to trigger emotions and thoughts taking us out of the doldrums.
Body sensations such as exercise, and breathing and meditation.
Object focusing: focus on one object exclusively. Look at the size, texture, scent, and color of the objects appearance. If possible, taste the object. Imagine other useful ways to use the object. Try to keep your mind focused on the object for at least 5 minutes.
Scarlett O’ Hara doesn’t always give sage wisdom but I love the part in “Gone With The Wind” where she says, “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
There are advantages in staying in the present moment and not thinking about tomorrow’s problems. Like Simba if we get ruminate over the mistakes of the past, we become depressed. If we are stuck forecasting the future, we become anxious. Practice living in the moment for that is where happiness and peace are found.