Thursday, February 20, 2014

Being Present: Someday The Screaming Will End

Generally, I find there are two main modes of being present.
"Being Present In The Moment". The Pain.
Mode one: You wake up. You feel like crap-taffy. Your neck and lower back are all kinked up from stress that tormented half your brain with sleeplessness all night. Trying to recover, you give "noticing" the tension a whirl, and you burst into uncontrollable sobbing or a ten-minute pillow-scream before you can safely manage making coffee without scalding the cat. This is the more preferable mode.

Mode two: You try desperately to stay anchored to your sense of self and the now, feeling your breath, and focusing hard on your totem. But try as you might, you're blown out of your skin with your totem shattered to smithereens by a nuclear mushroom cloud of grief or rage that balloons inside you with infinite, unceasing energy. The memories and thoughts won't stop. After a max of ten minutes, you numb out and find yourself six hours later on your fourth pint of ice cream, your fifth bottle of Sky, your third bag of weed, your last working credit card, or fifth consecutive hour of Bioshock. You've missed a whole day of life. Because being absent felt better than being present. This is the more common option.

It sucks. When it's like this, you feel trapped. All you want is escape. You pray for freedom with desperation and shimmery puppy-dog eyes like that little girl at Christmas who just reeeaaallly wants that horse. You can feel hopeless, like your only choices are conscious torment, unconscious torture, or death. Many of us like choice three. If we ever chose it, we are grateful to have survived.

When being present is hard (splintery, shard-in-the-eye misery) like this, it's helpful (sometimes) to remember why being present matters. It's not just about noticing butterflies and bumblebees, and prancing like some blissed-out Snow White so la-dee-frickin-da happy to be alive. That's stupid. It's about finding your way out. Ending the torment.

Think of being present like holding the Maurader's Map. (Harry Potter fans, explain this.) When you pause and notice what's happening, all the paths appear. You can trace your own mental windings and dead-ends, you can follow your mental traffic. You learn your way around. You find the doors leading out.

But if you force it, crumple your map, pour Vodka or chocolate all over the paper or feed the sheet into your PS3 or bong, you ain't gonna find nothing. It stays blank (and probably silently laughs at you in some magical map kind of way, like a snarky Sorting Hat).

"Escape" through addiction or dissociation is a lie. All those blurry hours may feel like bliss, like freedom from life boiled in your own skin, but they actually trap you, simmering forever. Those silky voices luring you seductively back to your purple haze are really the voice of that skanky dealer offering you that "one last hit" from his track-marked hand. "It's just to get you over the edge so you can come down and get clean," the voice may say. And "Yeah, you can trust him," you may think. Then three weeks later you're back in the alley selling your flesh for one more hit.

Addiction, dissociation and avoidance keep you lost. They steal your map. They leave you no way out. So you're stuck there, forever. (Like Argus Filch. And who wants to be that guy?)

The only real way out is through the fire. Even when it's cat-scalding, coffee-spill-blister painful. Even when for yet another morning you have to sob-scream your way out of bed just to be able to tie your tie without strangling yourself to death.

You can get through. You can feel the feelings, think the thoughts, and get to the end of them. Every tunnel has its exit. If you just keep your eyes open and aimed at the light.