“I can’t sleep,” she said. “My mind is racing, and no matter what I do, I can’t make it stop. My emotions are all over the place.”
Melissa and I were sipping Margaritas and munching on chips at our favorite neighborhood Mexican dive.
I totally understood. When I had my big break up two years ago, I tried to control and crush my crazy thoughts and roller-coaster feelings, but that only increased their charge. Instead, I found that by observing them with curiosity and without judgment, like clouds they gently floated by.
My therapist helped me with this sage advice:
“Ask yourself what’s not okay about this moment, then note your answer,” he began. “If it’s not okay, then think of your mind as a garden; your job is to pull out the weeds. An obsession? A weed. A fantasy? Another weed. A thought about the future? A memory of the past? Weeds. Keep pulling the weeds until one flower remains: this present moment.”
I saw how my mind worked—all the crazy stories I made up in my head. I noticed them when my ex and I were together, and I observed them now that we were apart. I learned to welcome them and use them as a kind of restart button to become present. When I caught myself in a fantasy or another form of “crazy thinking,” I could remember my therapist’s wise question, “What’s so bad about the present moment that you can’t be in it?”
I could also observe my emotions. Like my thoughts, I used them as a vehicle to become more present. When I felt sad, I asked if that sadness was based on a memory or future projection, or if it was what I was actually experiencing at that moment.
I learned that sensations are a clear pathway to the present. When I listen for the sounds around me, see my surroundings with what the Zen Buddhists call a “beginner’s mind,” and follow sensations in my body to track what I’m feeling, I sink deeper into what spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle calls “the power of now.”
I wanted to share these experiences with Melissa but caught myself. The timing wasn’t right; Melissa was still too raw. The best I could do for her now was to simply listen and empathize. “You must be exhausted,” I said.