One of the biggest lessons I have learned, and continue to learn, is that when we grow and get past our “stuff,” it is always preceded with a moment of realization of misplaced judgement. Realizing that something we believed about our life or self is, in fact, wrong. These realizations come in moments of presence with our pain in that we have decided there must be some other way than to continue the current fight, (whatever it may be). Presence with our self and situations always leads to openings. And, it is not always easy. It requires us setting down our ego projections and looking at things from multiple perspectives, understanding that our experiences have dirtied our perspectives. We must use our presence to clean our filters. There is a great parable for this I share with clients, I honestly don’t remember where I heard it, otherwise I would give credit, (I googled it and couldn’t find anything, so I will take the credit!). It goes a little something like this:
A young couple move into a new house. The first morning they are sitting, eating breakfast and the wife notices that the neighbor is putting out her white sheets to be dried on the line. As she watches, she notices that the sheets are very dirty. She says to her husband, “Can you believe this woman, hanging out her sheets like that? She mustn’t think that is clean. I can’t believe someone would consider that clean, she really should do a better job of cleaning her sheets, she must keep an awful home.”
This goes on for a few weeks as they get settled in their new home. Every Saturday morning the neighbor puts out her disgustingly dirty sheets to dry. All of a sudden after 4 weeks or so, they sit down to breakfast and the wife notices that the neighbor’s sheets are now brilliant white! She says to her husband, “look at that! She must’ve gotten all new sheets!” The husband says, “No that’s not it, I washed the windows yesterday!”
This parable has worked on my mind for years. Everytime I come to a snap decision or judgement about something, I consider if my windows or filters are dirty in some way. I have a very poignant real life example of this exact thing playing out in my life that I am not proud of, but am very glad I was able to see the new perspective.
My wife and I had been dating for about a year and we decided to move in together. It was very exciting and fun, and we also both brought some baggage with us. That first year of living together can be a challenge as you learn each other’s routines and get to know each other more. Of course, we had some arguments. When I get angry and charged up, I pace around or do the dishes. There were several times when things would get heated, and as I was pacing around she would follow me, and if I went into the bedroom, she would close the door and stand in front of it. This would trigger something in me that I can only explain as the fear of being chased by a tiger. All I wanted was to get the fuck out of that room and she was the thing blocking that. In my mind, I made her the bad guy, the abuser, the problem with the world. None of which was true. You see, I grew up in a home and communities in which things that happened when a door was closed were not safe. This situation triggered a fear response in me that caused me to project misplaced judgement on my wife. To give some more perspective, my wife grew up in a home that when emotions were high and arguments happened, the people involved would go to the bedroom, close the door and work it out in a safe manner. This is what she was trying to recreate for us by following me into the room and closing the door. So when I would lash out against this, she and I both would escalate. I wanted safety, she wanted to resolve. Neither of us could see through our own filters at what the actual situation was.
This happened a few times before our couples therapist helped us see what was actually happening; how our past experiences were driving our current motivations and perspectives. We were essentially operating from the past. We still argue on occasion, but we do a much better job of not escalating because we understand how these filters operate on us and most of the time we keep them clean. It requires presence in the moment to be aware of our filters and “clean” them.
So what does it mean to be present in the moment? It is about letting go of any past ideas that are clouding your current situation. Dealing with anxiety for much of my life has taught me many tools to know that I am safe and present in any situation. One of the easiest things to do is feel your breath. If you are breathing, everything is okay. It is very rare that we question our presence when we are truly in a dangerous or traumatizing situation. If you’re running from a tiger, you’re not thinking about it, you’re just running! Similarly, if you’re questioning your presence and awareness, you’re capable of grounding and pulling yourself into the moment.
Grounding into your body is the best way to focus on the here and now. You can’t feel your body on the couch tomorrow, you can’t hear the crickets last night, you can’t breathe ten minutes from now. You can only do these things now. When you feel yourself in the moment, it helps to realize how your thoughts take you out of the present moment.
A simple grounding exercise I like to use:
Sit in a comfy chair or lay down.
Close your eyes.
Take deep belly breaths.
Feel the parts of your body supported by the chair or floor.
With each exhale, allow your body to relax more into the support of the floor.
What do you hear?
What do you smell?
What is the temperature like?
Continue to breath and feel.
This simple exercise can be done daily or whenever you think about it. It is about tuning in to your senses and emotions in the now and allowing them to be.
Nate Ewert, RMT. Owner of Somatic Synergies Integrated Bodywork and Intentional Path Wellness; Founder of Denver Hiking Club.