The mind unconsciously loves problems because they give you an identity of sorts.” ― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
When I set out to focus on my mental health I did so to find solutions. How do I stop these destructive patterns? Despite telling myself many times over, "There's no magic pill," my mind latches onto the idea of a future day when I'll be better. When I concentrate on each moment, practicing being present as Tolle suggests, I believe there's a danger of stagnating.
"Things are okay right now." Sometimes, that's a way to avoid problems. For example, the first Morning Mantra is asking me to explore my emotions. This idea feels terrifying. Why don't I just stay here, where it's "okay?" This is what I mean when I say the status quo. Staying in the now and avoiding discussions or thoughts about my future seems unhealthy. I'm betting Tolle, would propose that I am not being present at all. Perhaps fear from the past is driving the desire to not rock the boat.
My relationship can feel stuck in this status quo space as well. My mental health has had affected our marriage deeply. Often, my partner treads carefully around me, attempting to protect me from frustration and hurt. When she's open and I have an honest and painful emotional reaction, I see her disappointment in herself. Thus, I begin to dance on egg shells as well. When we are communicating and "things are okay," I think we're both afraid to push forward, talk of the future, or invite new adventures. We're here in the status quo.
Knowing and Learning
What is the difference between the quicksand of the status quo and Tolle's now? Honestly, I wonder if the real difference to shine a light on is the one between my patterns of old and the status quo. The pattern of avoidance ran me for all these years. It won't just disappear overnight. There is no magic pill. I think the status quo is something new. It is the layer in between being in the moment, and my avoidance. I am recognizing the stagnation or status quo, after all.
The real difficulty is not to get upset at myself for falling into the pattern again. Admittedly, I am not so great at this. "Damn, I'm avoiding. Here I go again! Will I never get through this? I'm such a disappointment!" So many times the act of recognizing has spun me right back to avoidance and self-loathing. Therefore, this limbo of status quo isn't so bad. At least, that's the initial thought.
The status quo state is like having a contract with the current government in power in an election year. It's like not asking that person you like out on a date for fear of rejection. Not knowing can be more painful than a rejection. The status quo is a permanent state of purgatory for me.
My purgatory lies between two indistinct fictions. One is the future where I am better. The other is my past experience that I relive and think of as endless suffering. I have never really defined better for myself. I can appear introspective and tell you that I know that this is a journey and there is no magic cure or pill. How, I feel is not the same as these rational thoughts. Furthermore, my definition of "endless suffering" is almost completely emotional. Each time I reach into my feelings as I've instructed myself to do in the Morning Mantra, it hurts. I hurt so very much.
Not only am I at odds with my emotional and rational brain, but I am ignoring Tolle's Now as well. My pain is in the past. As my psychiatrist recently told me, the emotional part of my brain is not the same section that understands the passage of time. Those emotions I felt this morning as I did the mantra were just as strong as they were 35 years ago when a teacher said he was disappointed in me. It's up to me to make that connection between the rational timekeeper section of my brain and the emotional portion. I've been working to remind myself that I'm still here. Early on, I was afraid to feel that intense emotional pain because I thought it would incapacitate me. I imagined myself in the fetal position on the floor of the psychiatrist's office. I figured they would lock me up if I tapped into my gooey candy bar center of emotions. That hasn't happened. I must keep reminding myself that, and continue with my work.
By not defining what better means to me, I am fixating on the future instead of being with myself now. Even above, my fears of being incapacitated by emotions is a state I imagined for my future. Avoiding my present moment, I dream of a healthy me or a institutionalized me. Thinking of being better is not about the things I would do, but I focus on the things I cannot do now. That is, I don't have specific thoughts of the ways I will be a better partner in my relationship. I am reminded of those things I lack now. There's a difference between thinking about the future and intention-setting.
“A belief may be comforting. Only through your own experience, however, does it become liberating.” ― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
Maybe I'm not in the now when I am in this status quo state, but my intention is to break free from my patterns. Each time I fail, it is a reminder that there is no permanent solution. It is an opportunity, an experience. Things aren't okay, and that's okay. Each time I get to my nougat emotional center, it gets easier. I'm still here.