Years ago, my dad gave a Christmas eve sermon where he talked about how the true gifts of the season weren’t found in stockings or shiny wrapped boxes filled with complicated toys or new-fangled technological devices, but in the presence of God and those we loved.
My friend Beth later said that her husband (who had come to church for the first time that night) couldn’t stop staying the words my dad had preached, repeating over and over in sheer joy: “It’s not the PRESENTS, it’s the PRESENCE!”
(Just go ahead and say it out loud, it’s fun.)
Honestly? Sometimes I worry that I’m a person who wants the presents more than the presence.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy being awake to the reality of my life. It’s cool here in this existence! I dig it!
It’s just that, sometimes, I’m so focused on when I’m gonna ARRIVE that I forget to just be ALIVE. (Boom! How’s that for a rhyme, dad?)
Sometimes, I’m so busy looking forward that I miss being aware of the current reality.
The truth is, I think forward-thinking is a natural thing that human brains do. Especially right now. All of our neurons have been hard-wired from the caveman days to be hyppppper vigilant for threats, so we’re basically all homo-sapiens navigating around in a modern 21st-century landscape with our thoughts going “OK BUT WHERE TIGERS AND HOW I KEEP THEM NOT EAT ME??”
And now these anxiety-spotting neurons are working in over-drive, without us even really realizing it until we’re burned out and decision-fatigued and crying when we see a cereal commercial with people hugging.
Like many people, I continue to battle with doom and gloom thoughts that are trying to protect me in a completely scary, uncertain time. Grasping at sensory straws for safety, I find myself gravitating to familiar systems that both bore and soothe me.
I find myself staying inside more (“Outside cave, bad. Inside cave, GOOD!”), I cling to the familiarity of shows I’ve seen (or, like I told a friend who recommended a “really powerful” documentary to me: “No thanks, I need to not care about things right now”), I eat food I like without worrying too much about petty, pesky things like “nutritional value,” and I’m taking my time with goals that I don’t feel like rushing into.
All of this, I think, is normal (and, in fact, merely an extension of things I’ve done for years in order to manage sensory-overload).
Comfort is good! For sure. And yet, I know that sometimes my desire to be comfortable and safe turns into an attempt to micro-manage, control, and predict everything—and we all know that’s not possible.
Sometimes, protectivity becomes escapism, or straight up disassociation.
Sometimes, in order to feel safe in our lives, we completely take ourselves OUT of living. We don’t want to feel a certain way, so we try to AVOID feeling.
In the past few years of quitting drinking, starting therapy, and moving myself into FeelTheEmotions Town, I’ve learned the ultimate truth: We don't get rid of uncomfortable feelings. We simply become more comfortable with feeling them.
Connecting to the sensations in my body is something that my therapist consistently, gently guides me to as I’m like “Ok, but let me cerebrally process and figure out a specific 5-step cognitive plan to bypass these uncomfortable life stages and emotions.”
I always want to use my brain to strong-arm my way out of anxiety like the Kool-Aid man busting through a wall. I want to “crack the code,” to hack the system and side-step discomfort, but that’s not how it works.
An account I follow on Instagram (a page called “Source Messages”—please don’t judge me for being a Namaste Queen) recently posted this reminder that I found so helpful:
So I know it’s basic, but something I’ve been doing lately is trying to bring more awareness to the present in a sensory-way, especially in moments that don’t feel overwhelming—so there’s no pressure.
What do my lungs feel like at rest? Can I sense my hair sprouting from my scalp when I’m just chillin’? What is the texture of the fuzzy socks as I lie down, and how does it touch the bottom of my feet?
What about you? Are you practicing “training” yourself to connect to your body? What shifts when you move out of your head and into, say, the hairs on your head?
With you in the practice of being present to presence,
THREE GOOD THINGS
Need an easy comfort-food meal? I made this roasted lemon and feta broccoli pasta and it was SUPES simple and satisfying. (Plus, budget bytes has a whole slew of other amazing—cheap—recipes that are comfort food to the max.)
Even just 3 years ago when I quit drinking, the NA offerings were O’doulls, Shirley Temples, and water. No shade (though I’m more of a Roy Rogers fan m’self) but check out all these new booze-free cocktail options!
My friend Matthew (of Heathen podcast and girlboy) performs under the drag moniker of Flamy Grant AND IF THAT ISN’T WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS RIGHT NOW THEN I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS. Please enjoy Flamy’s soulful cover of “El Shaddai.”
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