Imagine you are on a path in a patch of shadowy woods. The path is clearly marked but there are dips and roots in it, and limbs have fallen onto it. The woods are filled with delicate flowers and ferns and other interesting sights that give you considerable pleasure. There are also predatory animals such as tigers that could harm you. But you have a durable and powerful flashlight.
By keeping the beacon on the path near your feet, you are able to step over and around obstacles in the path. The predators are frightened by the light and run away. You get to enjoy the flowers, ferns, and other wonderful things along the path. The more you keep your powerful light pointed near your feet, the safer and more easily you progress through the woods.
Occasionally, you shine your light behind you, back down the path, or toward the path ahead. But you do that only briefly, to give yourself a sense of where you have been and where you are going; most of the time you keep your light steadily shining on the path at your feet. You're safe and you can enjoy the scenery.
Sometimes you take out your compass and check it, to be sure you're going in the direction of your choice. You're on the right path, you are doing very well. Occasionally, others on paths near yours walk with you, but you don't depend on their lights. You enjoy their company while they are there.
Living in the Here and Now
The path in the woods illustrates living in the here and now, the only way to make it safely through life with as much stress-free enjoyment and productivity along the way as possible. Some of us go down the path (life) shining our lights (focus of attention) too far and too frequently behind us (the past) and ahead of us (the future).
We stumble (have needless stress and trouble) and miss much of the scenery (pleasures of life) along the way. We turn off our lights (take less responsibility for ourselves), expecting that others will look out for us and shine their lights at our feet, rather than taking care of themselves. We get upset with them when they don't and we fall. Usually we accuse them of not being fair to us.
It's in our best interest to spend relatively little time thinking of the past or future. When we stay in the present, we realize that the woods have a way of distorting the light. What we see is only an approximation of what will be or has been. We can get into serious trouble when we believe our memories of the past are accurate or when we think we can see the future. Guessing -- even good guessing -- isn't knowing what the future holds.
There's nothing wrong with doing some occasional looking ahead to plan and set goals. The danger is in doing it too often. It's important, and not that difficult, to distinguish planning from shining your light ahead to the future in an inappropriate way. When you feel good-to-neutral, then you're planning. If you're thinking ahead and don't feel better from doing it, you're not planning or setting goals. Life is far more than preparation for the "real thing." Right now is the real thing.
Stress Is An Illusion
Many people probably (and most likely do) have hidden stress that's a danger to you. It isn't what happens to you or around you that stresses you or gives you bad moods, it's what you think -- thoughts that happen so quickly or deeply that you don't even recognize them.
Stress from traffic and similar sources is an illusion. You may accept what I'm telling you as absolutely true. After all, many others have studied stress for many years and most of us haven't -- but you need to believe what I'm telling you, for it to benefit you. I want that benefit for you.
I have talked with people who have taken trying to look to the future to an extreme. They've spent years in a job they hated, dreaming of the time they'd enjoy their retirement. When they retire they realize that most of their lives have already passed with little joy or satisfaction -- they discover they don't even know how to be joyful and satisfied in their retirement. When thoughts of the future or past interfere with your significant awareness of what's going on in the present, much harm is done.
Living Free From Fear
Speaking of thoughts of the future -- how would you like to be as free of fears as is humanly possible? How would you like to have little, if any, fear of speaking in public or almost anything else?
A woman told me that soon after she began to practice what I'm sharing with you, she had an interesting experience. She lived on a farm, and one dark night she needed to go some distance from the house to get to the truck. With her flashlight in hand, she walked along the rough dirt road, forcing herself to keep the light at her feet. At first she was afraid because by not shining the light around, she couldn't make sure there were no ghosts out there.
She laughed and said, "I don't know what I thought I'd have done if there were ghosts there. I did make it to the truck without stumbling and without getting off the road. It was a good lesson for me."
You can be free of fear as much as you can shine your light at your feet (live in the here and now). Anytime you are tense, apprehensive, afraid, or terrified you are most likely not living in the reality of the here and now. At some level of your mind, you are pointing your light down your path somewhere.
Keep your light at your feet and take your life one sure step at a time. You can do it.
The above is excerpted with permission
from Stress Master, by Dr. Richard Terry Lovelace,
and published by John Wiley & Sons. ©1990.
Book by this author
Mastering Hidden Stress: The First Science and Clinical Practice-Based Healthy Solution for Your Subconscious and so Most Dangerous Mental Stress
by Dr. Richard Terry Lovelace.
About The Author
Dr. Lovelace is "mostly retired" but has a private practice offering psychotherapy and stress management in Winston-Salem, NC. Visit his website at http://www.truthforhealthyliving.org