With less than a week until I turn in a final draft of my masters thesis, stress and anxiety seem to have moved in, unpacked their bags, and made themselves very comfortable in my life. Control issues, wannabe-perfectionism, and a sincere desire for validation are all at play during these final hours in which I am truly driving myself crazy. Not quite nut-house crazy, but definitely sleep-deprived, stressed-out, hanging-by-a-thread crazy. It is nearly impossible to keep it together and show up like a normal person in the classroom, in my personal relationships, and in life.
During a phone conversation with a dear friend last night, I described strange moments of calm and confidence which I have experienced sporadically between periods of insanity and anxiety. I described my day at school as follows:
“Yesterday afternoon, I sat down in the library and I was on a roll! I was getting things done but not stressing about how much more I had to do...I was working hard but not giving myself a hard time about needing to work harder...But at some point later in the day I started thinking about how much time and effort I have put into this project and how badly I wanted to end on a strong note and how I needed to really push harder to make this happen...and I started to feel so stressed and anxious that by the end of the day I was in a depressed rut that I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of. How can I go from a place of peace and acceptance to a place of total fear so quickly?”
She immediately answered me matter-of-factly, “Well, you said it right there, you started thinking.” So simple, and so true. The moment in which I stopped doing and started thinking, I let the fear in. I let it in and I let it stay and I believed the things that it told me, and pretty soon I was lost in stress and anxiety. The key to that purely peaceful period of time which had preceded it was just that: I wasn’t thinking, I was just doing. I wasn’t lost in worry about the past or fear about the future, I was simply in the moment, doing the task in front of me. One thing at a time. As soon as I took myself out of that moment, I lost the feelings of peace and acceptance that come with being in the present.
I like to think that I have gone on enough retreats, read enough books, and one enough daily practice to remember that living in the present moment is the solution to nearly all of my problems today. I guess I needed to get in some pain yesterday to be reminded of why I try to live my life this way. Because without it I am truly lost. So, for today, I am taking a deep breath, turning my thoughts off, and just doing what I can in this present moment, because when you think about it (or not), that is really all we have.
“The past is history, the future is a mystery, and today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”