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From now to present

Updated: May 2

“…. communication is like a social weather. It fills our sails, becalms, or sometimes wrecks us. Sensing what is called for in a particular context, responding correctly to gestures like an extended hand, feeling a black cloud settling over a discussion, are all examples of a weather system that can impact us in concrete and material ways.“

(Lynn Hoffman: Family Therapy: An Intimate History)

In recent years, more and more people have been inspired by the idea of „focusing on present moment“ or „being in presence“. There is a hope that if we learn how to be more aware of what we experience at the very moment, we might be happier and healthier, our level of stress would decrease and our overall quality of life improves.

We can roughly trace two different streams of this interest: spiritual healing on one side and science on the other. Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle gained definitely much larger attention with his books than psychiatrist and researcher Daniel N. Stern, but it was the second one who turned present moment into scientific concept and brought it to the attention of academia. He brought research evidence, used language acceptable for scientific community and even measured the present moment (it lasts from 3 to 5 seconds).

Though, there is another phenomenon that is also happening in the very moment but takes us in a different direction. It is not so popular, not so well appreciated and rather considered as weakness.  It is the almost unbearable urge for pleasure or relief that we want NOW.

The urgent aspect is very important here because every delay is suffering.

That´s why this phenomenon is also called delay discounting. Kids may experience this near the ice cream shop, lovers in the hotel elevator and a gambler after entering the casino. I just want it. Now.

In his book „Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is not an Illness“, neuroscientist Marc Lewis describes this phenomenon simply as now appeal. He, as an addiction science professor and also a person with his own lived experience with addiction, regards this phenomenon a very important part of why addictive behavior is so difficult to shake off.


Emergence of the urge

I guess we all know this powerful desire for immediate satisfaction or relief. It is frequent reason for why it is hard to hold on to our commitments like healthy life-style, diet, rules for social media, etc. Probably not everyone struggles with this but for me, it is definitely part of everyday life. When I am lucky, it is only few minutes per whole day, at other times it is a whole day battle. Like few weeks ago...

It was after horrible night during which my younger daughter experienced strong pain in her belly. I have been even calling ER and was really worried about her. It turned out well, the emergency operator helped me to calm down and after I calmed down, my daughter did too. But I haven´t slept much and already in the morning I knew that it would be hard to get through the day. I had to do normal things - prepare breakfast and snacks for kids, help them get to school, and then do my work agenda. But it was not easy.

Except for overall tiredness, I felt I needed a break after the stressful night filled with fear. And not only break. It was as if my body was claiming a reward for handling this difficult situation. But since I was not ready to give up on my daily duties, I continued with it, and the urgency of these feelings grew. The now appeal was here. And now.

Actually, I felt like divided in two parts. The first part of me had this constant unbearable urge for quick satisfaction and the other was trying to keep me on track with my daily duties.

Here is an example. After kids were at school, I prepared a good big breakfast for myself and swallowed it really fast. Then immediately, the first part of me was crying for more food (more satisfaction) while the other part repeatedly proclaimed that the food was just enough and eating more could result in digestive problems and even bigger tiredness that might stop me from working.

But it was not only about food. After I began doing my work agenda, after every call, every e-mail, every invoice I was compulsively checking my cell phone, especially the social media, messaging services and news feeds to check and scroll. In fact, I was scrolling even if I knew I would find nothing. I was checking WhatsApp twice a minute even if I already was there four times in the previous minute.

Stop fighting

After two hours after my breakfast, the second part of me lost its power, it gave up, and I started to heat a goulash soup that I thought I would have for lunch. It didn´t make sense in this part of the day, I still was not hungry, I still knew it is not good for me but I was just craving fat and salt in the soup. I so much WANTED SOMETHING.


Then, after this battle was lost, I had to cope with the feelings of guilt and blame. After my 44 years of life, half of which was filled with psychotherapy trainings, courses, and practice, it definitely went better than when I was a teenager. But still it was difficult and I ended up quite exhausted.

At the end, I realized that I just need to stop fighting. I pushed myself to lay down. I focused on the floor where my body rested and I felt the immediate relaxing effect. It was like my legs and pelvis started to enjoy the fact that they can rest a bit from holding the upper part of my body and the same applied for my shoulders and blades. I realized that I could breathe more deeply. I almost fell asleep but I didn´t.

After I got up, I started to prepare my lunch (no goulash soup anymore!), I did it very slowly and enjoyed the whole process of preparation. The now appeal was gone. I was in present moment.

Letting the sky turn blue

What happened? How did I manage to move from now appeal to present moment? There is an interesting paradox in switching between these two different states of mind. Whereas now appeal may come very quickly and suddenly like a storm in high mountains, for the present moment to come, you have to wait. And, once you are in now appeal, there is nothing as terrible as waiting.

So, when we are in now appeal and want out, trying to get to present moment right away may not be the best strategy. We can rather focus on enhancing our capacity for waiting. To put it in verse, we should find a way to fall away. For me, lying on floor and noticing the processes in my body is everyday practice and I know that it would bring me relief. For someone else, a short walk, taking a shower or talking to a friend may have similiar effect.

The point is that we move into a simple, proven bodily activity with no other intentions than to fully immerse in the activity as such. We give up all ambitions, all hopes. Or, if I borrow the weather metaphore of Lynn Hoffman, after the black cloud overshadows our horizons and the heavy rain starts falling down, we find a shelter where we can not only wait but also have a rest, explore the shelter and enjoy it.

Sometimes, after the storm is over, we even do not want to come out of the shelter because we have just started to enjoy it. Even though we were in such a hurry before the storm. This is a good sign. Probably, we have just arrived into the present moment.

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