Things just don’t feel right. All around you there are signs that you should be happy, and yet you ache with a nagging sense of discontent.
In the news we are hearing how Facebook is linked to depression. Perhaps. But depression, discontent, generally feeling in a funk are states of mind, body and spirit that have roamed this earth long before Mark Zuckerberg made his mark. So where can we lay the blame? We start to rummage around in the past, trying to find clues for where it all went wrong, but if the problems are here in the present, isn’t that where we should look?
When I sit with clients I often see how hard they strain away from their present skin, whether that is because they are longing to see a future change that may or may not ever happen, or because they are caught in a prism of mirrors that they hold up to a past that changes each time they look at it. They are lost from the present, either because what is here and now is too painful, or perhaps simply they have formed a habit of constantly looking back or forward.
The funny thing about the present is that it is always here for us to look at. We do not have to flick through photos to remember, or drum our fingers as we count down the days to a future possible. It is here for the taking, and that carries a measure of control with it. We have the ability to control how much we immerse ourselves in the here and now, accepting what is without trying to change.
Sometimes the present is too painful. We have all developed coping mechanisms, and avoidance is one form of coping mechanism. In the case of extreme trauma we can suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and in this case we dissociate from our present feelings (we become emotionally numbed) because if we were to connect with them we might become overwhelmed.
In less extreme cases, we may be avoiding the present because we believe the pain would be too much to handle. Sometimes the fear of unravelling is too much, so we keep it all held tightly in. In this case, perhaps we could try small steps towards awareness of the present. I am a firm believer that we cannot achieve change until we have become fully aware (and accepted) what is. So I see the process of change as –
A useful starting point with awareness and acceptance is a mindfulness technique called the ‘Three Minute Breathing Space’. There are many versions of this widely available, and I originally discovered this in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ (2001) but below is my version. In my version I have separated out the three dimensions of our awareness into…
Sit in a quiet room where there are no distractions. Let your breathing be the anchor to hold you in the present. Just notice your breath, and do not try to change anything. As you breathe –
Chris Warren-Dickins BACP Registered Counsellor