“Loving Life! And trying to stay ‘in the moment’.” This is what I wrote in the “About You” section of my Facebook page a number of years ago after a particularly difficult chapter in my life. I had made the decision that life is too short not to try to fully embrace each and every moment. I’ll admit, it is a lofty aspiration– but when I am able to achieve being fully present, it opens up opportunities for connection, inspiration, joy, and sometimes pain. Embracing and accepting the pain we are experiencing in the moment can help us overcome it.
Emotional pain is nearly always connected to relationships. In the book “True Love” by Thich Nhat Hahn, he encourages the practice of acknowledging feelings through mindful breathing, giving concentration to the feeling in order to truly be present. “‘Breathing in–I know that I am angry; breathing out–I know the anger is still in me.’ Ten minutes later, you will feel better….You will be able to look deeply at the true nature of your anger. This discovery, this understanding, this wisdom, will liberate you from your pain.”
Adolescents need to be shown safe ways to express their emotions. When they are little and cry because something doesn’t turn out how they want, we tell them to “stop crying,” or “grow up.” But if they aren’t given a safe outlet to express their feelings, those feelings get bottled up and then explode in some other way. We have probably even come across adults that exploded on us in a surprising way and wondered, “why did they do that?” Usually it has nothing at all to do with the interaction that we had with them, but rather with some emotional baggage they carried with them from a past toxic interaction with another person. Those adults haven’t learned the important tools for how to manage their emotions. Young people who are shown how to do this, have a much better chance at being high functioning adults who can regulate their emotional response. Absent intentional guidance, young people, who often times are feeling some new emotion for the very first time, don’t know how to manage the intensity of that emotion. They may present to us that they have everything under control, but it’s much like a duck swimming upstream. On the surface, all looks smooth and calm. Underneath the water, the duck is paddling ferociously to try to get to its destination.
How might we help adolescents manage those emotions? One way is to encourage them to talk about what they are feeling and to validate that those feelings are very real to them. Another way is through the mindful breathing exercise described above. Connecting the mind and body to the present moment is an important step to move beyond the stress or anxiety one is feeling. Certainly, it is important to seek professional help if the issue is chronic.
Acknowledging the present moment, however, also opens us up to the possibility of great joy and love. Looking a loved one in the eyes, truly looking, connects you in a powerful way and opens portals for deeper love and appreciation. Taking the time to truly look at the beauty in the environment around us also grounds us in the present moment and opens opportunities to express gratitude for the here and now. In the height of Autumn, the fall colors are particularly stunning. Working in a school, there are moments every day that remind me of the beauty all around. Squeals of joy from the playground outside my office catch me off guard at times. The joy of the children is contagious, bringing an immediate smile to my face. Walking behind two high school students in the hallway, I am struck by the conversation I overhear–one of excitement about a just completed science lab and the discoveries they had made. Or observing students’ sense of accomplishment when they have just completed a difficult maneuver on the tumbling mats– the pride they feel in their achievement overwhelms me with pride too.
This moment is the only moment that is real. This moment is full of life, love, and endless possibility for transformation.