Leaving Ourselves - by Tara Sophia Mohr
This was one of those weeks where I had a bunch of stuff I had to do, mostly involving wellness fairs and chair massage for a great many people (not complaining, mind you!) but I wanted you to have something to read in my absence.
Enter Tara Sophia Mohr: writer, personal growth teacher, and coach. She writes the blog, Wise Living, and I expect you all to behave and treat her nicely while I'm gone.
Enjoy! (And please feel free to let either of us know what you think!)
In my life, I’ve had two major compulsions. The first one was over-eating. That started at age two or three.
By five, I was an overweight kid.
The second one was what I call project compulsion. Even as a child, I would dream up elaborate, overwhelming projects: set up a (stuffed) animal hospital in my bedroom, today. Recruit all the neighborhood children to put on a play of Annie and perform it next Saturday. Write and illustrate a cookbook by bedtime. I’d leap into a dizzying whirlwind of activity that would leave me exhausted, overwhelmed, spent.
Looking back, I can recall the feeling that precipitated a project launch. In the moments when any loneliness, boredom, sadness, disappointment, or anger was arising in my childhood self, I would begin a project. That was my fix. That was my flight path.
First I’d dream up the vision. Then I’d get lost in the work. The project would eclipse all else. I’d worked whipped up, in a focused, urgent frenzy. The discomfort of the present moment, the difficult things about my childhood—all of that would vanish.
Even in my adult life, many of my proudest professional accomplishments – projects that reflect my passions and interests – were also the fruits of project compulsion--reflected in symptoms like these:
- A sense of sudden, dramatic urgency about a project
- A feeling that I have to master it all, and be an expert, immediately (or better yet, yesterday) – the opposite of a “one step at a time” attitude
- All other things - relationships, self-care, exercise – get eclipsed
- Becoming tired and overwhelmed but not feeling able to stop
Bottom line? In doing the project, I leave myself and I leave the present moment.
Over-eating is no different. It’s about filling up—physically and mentally. It’s about distracting. The distraction comes not only from the act of eating and the over-full, dulled state that follows, but from the unrelenting, negative thoughts that complete the cycle: “You did it again.” “Time to start the next diet.”
Life, when experienced without all our compulsions and crutches, is actually like a light that burns so bright it hurts our eyes a bit to look at it. Life itself – even in the empty moments – perhaps most in the empty moments in fact – is full, vivid. So we dull, numb, distract in a thousand ways. It takes strength and practice and habits to lean into and stay with the present, distractions absent.
What I’m learning now, still a novice, is that if I stop before I’ve eaten too much, if I don’t fill the space with food or caffeine or work or some other distraction, I get to face the moment. I get to be with that vividness, that bright light, with true sensation or emotion. Sometimes it’s joy or gratitude, sometimes worry, fear or resentment.
But here’s the secret: everything passes when we face it fully in the present moment, when we breathe into it, when bear compassionate, attentive witness. Every emotion moves once we allow the emotion to be center stage fully as it is. Every emotion becomes simply like weather in the sky of our minds, weather that passes quickly.
As it turns out, compassionate, attentive awareness is a magical tonic that changes everything. It creates a shift. It takes us from one present moment to the next, and the next present moment will be different from this one.
When we distract ourselves with some compulsion – from facebook to frappucinos to our cherished to-do lists, we run from reality. We never turn and face it. And so we don’t move through it.
We also miss out on experiencing ourselves as a mysterious being that breathes like the tide going in and out, whole in just being, one that can handle and move through anything by compassionately facing it.
Take a moment and consider, how often do you fully experience the full vitality, vividness and emptiness of the present moment?
How often do you sit with all the emotions that are there for you in the present moment?
When do you reach for something to leave yourself and to leave the present? What do you reach for? Look carefully for hidden or subtle compulsions.
Start some simple practices that replace reaching with being: simply taking a few deep breaths and feeling your body, placing your hand on your belly to feel your breath going in and out, sitting still and watching nature for a moment, quieting yourself to feel what you are feeling.
It will be difficult. Let it be so. Keep returning your awareness to your own present moment experience, and hold that experience with curiosity and compassion.
Tara Sophia Mohr is a coach, writer and teacher who brings a unique background to the personal growth field. Tara's writing has been featured in numerous publications, including USA Today, Forbes, Ode Magazine, the International Business Times, The Change Blog, GoodlifeZen, Wisebrain.org, and many others.