Be here now: how to be emotionally present to life’s challenges

Be here now: how to be emotionally present to life’s challenges

One of the great truths of psychoanalysis is that there is no way to get around troubles in life — at least no good way.

One of the great truths of psychoanalysis is that there is no way to get around troubles in life — at least no good way.

by Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D. — 

There is a wish in all of us to be able to get around troubles in life rather than having to go through them. If only we could skip from the beginning to the end without having to go through the middle. If only we could skip the pain and just have the pleasure. If only we could skip the classes and just get the diploma. If only we could skip the dating and just get to the happy marriage. Or, for some of us, if only we could skip the marriage and just get to the happy part.

But then there are the deeper wishes. If only we could skip being small and just be big, or skip the needing and just be complete. If only we could skip the anxiety and just be at peace. If only we could skip the confusion and know or bypass the conflict and just be friends.

One of the great truths of psychoanalysis is that there is no way to get around troubles in life — at least no good way. An emotionally healthy life is found in being as present as we can be to our experiences and facing them as they come. A satisfying life is not found in arriving at some ideal state, but in growing through all experiences from A to Z.

Rick Steves, the ultimate travel guide, urges travelers to approach their trip from beginning to end as a real journey and not just as a series of inconveniences that one must go through to reach some ultimate destination. The richness of travel comes from the experiences in the airport, with the person who helps you with your luggage to the jerk who steals your cab, the person who blows you a kiss or the child who helps translate the basic German you learned through Rosetta Stone®.

The Grand Canyon is amazing to behold, but what really touches you is getting through the heaving lungs and aching knees while you hike it — not to mention the cold beer at the end. You can buy a stunning photo of the Egyptian pyramids to hang on your wall, but it is infinitely better if you and your family actually get to see them in person.

Worries about travel are difficult to manage but not nearly as difficult as worries about challenges that we do not choose, in which the pain far outweighs the pleasure, where the journey lasts a long time and has an uncertain ending. Perhaps you are going through an experience like this — an injury, illness, grief, divorce, unemployment, death or a new venture with an unknown future.

In these more distressing experiences, we feel a great pressure to be done with it. We desperately want to know how it turns out. We want to get it over with, to be rid of the anxiety and pain. We want to get to the other side as quickly as possible.

It takes real strength to face life as it comes, step by step, just as it is. It takes real patience to accept that some things in life cannot be hurried along but must unfold over time. It takes real courage to be emotionally present to our experiences so that they can touch us, shape us and enrich us. If we can do this, then we not only get through our experiences, but we also get something meaningful from them.

I will always treasure the memory of one of my dearest friends who courageously faced an extended and ultimately terminal illness. She taped a note to her computer and looked at it every day, week after week, month after month, as she faced the rollercoaster ride of battling cancer. With a nod to psychologist and spiritual teacher Ram Dass, the note said, “Be here now.”

We can try to get around life. We can try to take shortcuts around the pain. We can try to circumvent the difficulties. But we cannot actually avoid the journey. If we try to do so, then the shortcutting itself becomes the journey. And that is what we will most regret. Through all of our days — and at the end of all of our days — we do well to be guided by my friend’s motto: Be here now.

 

Dr. Jennifer Kunst is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified psychoanalyst in private practice and author of Wisdom from the Couch: Knowing and Growing Yourself from the Inside Out. She is a senior faculty member at the Psychoanalytic Center of California and an adjunct associate professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, where she has taught doctoral level courses in psychoanalysis and psychological testing. centralrecoverypress.com/books/wisdomfromthecouch.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 34, Number 4, August/September 2015.

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