Live in the Moment For Your Health
Charles F. Glassman, MD, FACP – Coach MD
I’m sure you have heard the call to Just live in the moment.
The question I ask is, What defines a moment? Is it a second, is it a minute, is it an hour, a day, a lifetime? How long is it?
In the context of the life of the universe, our lifetime is indeed an infinitesimal blip. So to the astrophysicist our lifetime is a moment.
Or you might choose to look at it the way the rock group Kansas did in their 1978 hit, Dust in the Wind: I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment’s gone.
All of these might make for interesting conversation, but don’t really help us to live happily in the moment. For me, living in the moment means being attentive to the activities and interactions going on right now, and being ever aware of the automatic brain’s attempts to disrupt everything. This concept is crucial because the automatic brain (AB) is constantly digging through the data banks of our past comparing present conditions and projecting into the future, in an attempt to get a handle on the unknown. The AB wants to get us to fight or flee present or potential dangers, which (to this primitive brain) often arise from the peacefulness and vulnerability of the moment.
Let me give a couple of examples. Recently Laurie came into the office and her blood pressure was slightly elevated. In our discussion, she described how angry she had become at her husband for throwing out some food she had prepared. (Whenever we experience anger or rage, it is always the fight reflex of the AB. That means that some danger triggered the AB to initiate Laurie’s fight reflex.) What could be so dangerous about throwing away some food? Was she going to starve to death? Obviously, it was not about the food itself.
Laurie related how over the years she did not work outside the home but took much pride in her cooking ability. Her husband, she felt, always took her cooking for granted. His throwing out the food flipped a switch on in her AB. Immediately, the AB searched her data banks and hit on the lifelong resentment she felt over being taken for granted. In a sense, that resentment represented, for Laurie, a danger of being one-upped.
So was Laurie living in the moment? Was this Laurie addressing the situation at hand? That’s what this may seem like. But, instead of being in the moment, Laurie had approached this situation under the firm direction of her AB. Her AB alerted her to the danger of being outdone or disrespected (i.e., one-upped) by her husband. This led to an outburst of anger and hostility, not necessarily related to the issue at hand but referenced against danger memories’the past. If Laurie doesn’t fight for her right to be recognized now, what will that mean for her future? (This is very automatic and happens instantaneously).
For Laurie to realize that she is not living in the moment, she does not necessarily have to be aware that her AB is rapidly ping ponging between her past and future. All she needs to do is recognize that she is angry. That’s the tip-off. Her anger was enough to cause physiological effects, all pointing to anger.
I coached her on this and advised that when something like that occurs, she should take a slow, steady breath in through the nose and out through the mouth (the opposite of what her AB directs), step back physically or figuratively and address what just happened that moment. She should try to separate the present situation from the baggage of the past or what that event might mean to her future relationship. For example, she could try saying something like, Honey, it took me a while to prepare that food and I was really looking forward to sharing it with you. I’m very disappointed that you threw it out. That’s it. Much better than reacting to the false danger of possibly starving to death or what might happen if her husband doesn’t respect her. That assertive but not aggressive approach is less likely to trigger her husband’s AB and thus has a better chance of getting him to understand.
Another example of living in the moment applies to all of us who have children. Often when we get angry with our kids, it’s because we feel they are disrespecting us (thus the one-up trigger), that they are in real (or so it seems to us) danger, or we’re projecting into the future. Say your child protests about going somewhere you think he should go, or she comes home with a poor grade, or is in some way going through a specific emotional or physical challenge,how does it make you respond? I can assure you, if you tap into what your AB is doing at those moments, you will see that it is calculating what your child’s behavior will mean to his or her future school performance, future relationships, to getting into a good college, to getting a good job, to getting married and having kids, to being successful. And, what other people might think about this behavior and your child’s lack of future success. This happens very quickly, seemingly in the moment. Trust me, I’ve been there, so I know!
Dealing in the moment means not believing, trusting, or taking direction from the automatic firings of the AB. Sometimes, taking a breather is an essential component of this. In parenting, I think it can be more important for parents to give themselves a time-out than to demand that their child take one. Too passive, you say? No, passive (flight) would be to not address the behavior at all. Aggressive (fight) would be to strike or yell loudly at the child. The assertive approach is to address the issue at hand,in the moment,not influenced by the AB. Instead of letting the AB drag you into the future,hunting for potential dangers and thus sparking the passive or aggressive approach, you take a time-out. You breathe deep, and let yourself come back into the moment, where you opt for an assertive approach. There is no danger, there is no threat in this moment, you remind yourself. And you find yourself dealing directly with the issue at hand.
The modus operandi of the AB is to get you to see all the potential dangers’at lightning speed. But the AB’s frame of reference is the past and the future: Data from the past makes up danger memories’what we consider dangerous now,and the future is the great unknown, so we must plan for the dangers that lurk there. The AB is NOT present in the moment or the situation at hand! Too often, we end up fighting or fleeing what is right in front of us, in the present circumstances’in the moment. When we sit quietly in meditation, or listening to music, or attending a Yoga class, often we see our brain wandering. This is not mindful, but our AB trying to get us out of the present moment and attend to the details of our life, like the flash that you need to pay a bill as soon as the class ends.
Thus, really living in the moment hinges on how much stock you place in your past and future. It also means being intimately aware of what is making you angry at any particular moment. This is not only important for your spiritual health, but for your physical and emotional health, as well. Here’s the take home for making your moments happy and productive.
·Be aware when you become angry
·Once aware, make your first response to slow down your breathing
·If able, physically move from your current place
·Say to yourself, there is no danger in this moment, there is no threat
·Prepare in your mind an assertive response (not aggressive or passive); that is, with the goal of I win, you win.
·Address the situation without any reference or connection to anything that may have happened in the future or past
·Understand that the goal is not to never get angry, but to not stay angry when you do
He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Brain Drain, which helps explain and fix self-sabotage. It is the winner of the 2011 Independent Publisher's Award and 2011 Eric Hoffer Award as the best Self-Help and Health book, 2010 Pinnacle Book Award for best Self-Help Book, and 2009 LA Book Festival Best Spirituality Book.
To new subscribers on his website, he is now offering his free, new EBook, Destiny Diet. Weekly, Dr. Glassman hosts Medicine on the Cutting Edge, which gives a voice to pioneers in medical research and development. Dr. Glassman lives with his family in Rockland County, NY.
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