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The Best Ways to Stay in the Present

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Eric Audras via Getty Images
Eric Audras via Getty Images

If your life is in turmoil with a bad boss, a hurtful relationship or a money-losing investment, take comfort in the fact that the adversity has a purpose -- it can bring you peace. While that sounds counter-intuitive, Arianna Huffington explains it in her recently released book Thrive, "there is a hidden purpose -- and alchemy -- in suffering that's transmuted into wisdom and strength".

This has certainly been true for me. Much as I don't want the tough times, I must admit that they always leave me more resilient. This is partially because I learn that I can indeed handle more than I thought possible and partially because tough times force me to find coping strategies that provide a continued sense of well-being, even after the crisis subsides.

My coping strategies always start with accepting that "where I am right now is where I am meant to be." It reminds me that resisting problems only amplifies them and reassures me that there is a purpose in the chaos. It is comforting to know that difficult as things might seem, there is a lesson to be learned that will make me stronger, wiser and more productive in the future.

While at university many years ago I hung a poster on the wall of my basement apartment graced with the poem "Desiderata." I have repeatedly quoted two lines from that poem ever since."You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees or stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."

It consoles me to know that I can "put it in cruise," turn it over and let the universe do its work. Yet, to actually do that takes detachment. I've always admired those people who can calmly let go of the desire to control, confident under any circumstance that "this too shall pass." I wanted to be one of them but it didn't come naturally until I learned to release from the external world and "go within" through meditation.

I started this when our daughters were small and I was working like a mad woman. Our house was old and short of space so I struggled to anchor myself internally while the girls played hockey in the hall, firing pucks at the bedroom door. All I needed was a short time in that "dream-like" space to calm me. After emerging, even cleaning the dog's latest accident didn't raise my ire or resentment.

Meditation works because it takes you to the present moment, freeing you from ruminating about the past and worrying about the future. It allows you to be in the "now." If you always want to be somewhere else or be someone else, you'll lose sight of the fact that "peace is in the present." The problem is that we're not good at recognizing it because when we are not in the moment, we are not there to know we're not there!

Thus, I have developed three techniques to place me squarely in the here and now and anchor me there:

1) Walk in Nature: I make it a daily practice to get outside and admire the flaming sunset, a flock of migrating birds, or the tenacity of marching ants. It often takes me one full block on a walk to finally let go -- but it always comes and it is always a great relief. Part of the reason it works is that it allows me to experience the world anew.

2) Activate Senses -- When I take time to really absorb the fragrance of a freshly cut orange, really listen to the sound of the rain against the window or really feel the texture of food on my tongue I feel alive. Furthermore, when I indulge in a sinful pleasure rather than wolfing it down guiltily, I eat it with gust, relishing every morsel!

3) Mind My Own Onions- If I am judging either myself or someone else, it takes me out of this 'time and this day.' Each time I mentally cross the fence into another's yard, I remind myself that I'm trespassing on someone else's property. By visualizing myself firmly closing the gate on their yard and walking back to relax in the lounge chair of my space I come back to the peace of the present.

Obstacles and setbacks are an opportunity to learn how to deal with things that go wrong. They give us the confidence to know we can do it in the future. Consider them a building block. More importantly, adversity demands you develop coping skills that teach you a better way of living. Start by accepting that where you are now is where you are meant to be. Then find peace in the present by walking in nature, suspending judgment and activating your senses. Just as I learned to meditate in the midst of my children playing hall hockey, we can still be at peace when things go astray.

It all comes from living in the present and the interesting thing is that when we are "there" we don't want to be anywhere else - it feels so-o-o flipping good. It does seem counter-intuitive that it takes tough times for us to learn how to feel good but therein lies the magic. By adopting coping skills the worst times are transformed into the best times and a stronger and wiser 'me' becomes the beneficiary. It is the hidden purpose of adversity.

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