One of the slogans in the 12-step programs is One Day At A Time. In the life of someone enduring a transition – whether in the midst of a break up, becoming a mother, trying to conceive, or retiring – a more appropriate and helpful phrase is One Moment At A Time.
This topic recently emerged in my video interview with psychotherapist Carrie Dinow for my upcoming Birthing a New Mother Home Study Course. We were discussing how the common initiation of first trimester sickness is an initiation into the struggles of parenthood in the sense that, when a woman approaches the test with consciousness, she learns skills and calls on inner resources that she’ll use countless times in her life as a mother. For Carrie , the resource she called upon was staying in the moment. She would tell herself, “I’m sick in this moment. It’s not going to last forever. I might not be sick in three minutes. I’m just sick right now.” Calling on her inner resource and practice of focusing her mind on this moment helped temper the panic that ensues when we project into the “what-if” future.
When working with new mothers, we encourage the same practice. When a colicky baby sends a new mother into overwhelm or the sleep deprivation overpowers the love and gratitude, it’s extremely helpful to focus on just this one moment and remind yourself, “My baby is crying right now. He won’t be crying forever” or “My baby won’t fall asleep. I’ve been trying for two hours. But eventually she will sleep.” Kids, and especially babies, are extreme in their emotions and often span the spectrum within a single minute, screaming their heads off one second then bursting into delicious laughter the next. Because they live one moment at a time, they’re not attached to the fact that they were miserable and can move through it with ease. Our job as parents, and as people, is to remember how to do the same. I’m so frustrated with this child I’m going to explode can quickly flip over into I’m so in love with this child I’m going to burst within the span of one minute. When you allow yourself to experience each emotion to its fullest without getting attached to it you learn to accept and appreciate parenthood with more grace.
One of my favorite quotes from the Birthing a New Mother interviews is from Sarah, who said, “Birth is a magnification of every thing that you’ll experience as a mother in one bright shining neutron star of a day. If you uncoil the star, that’s motherhood.” One of the gifts of giving birth is that it presents one of the most powerful opportunities for drawing on the resource of staying in the moment. In fact, a common tool that midwives and doulas use when a woman feels like she can’t take another hour of the pain is to say, “Don’t think about another hour. Focus on just this moment. Each contraction lasts one minute with a beginning, middle, and end. You can do anything for one minute. It’s just one minute at a time.” When a new mother remembers how she called on that resource during childbirth, it can fortify her during the first overwhelming months of motherhood.
The challenge of staying in the moment also arises for my bride and newlywed clients. The questions arise: “Can I love him forever? What if I fall out of love in ten years?” or “I’m anxious now; does this mean I’ll have a panic attack on my wedding day?” The untrained mind has a tendency to project days, weeks, and even years into the future, worrying about what might happen and how you might feel. The practice is to return to this moment and say, “I’m anxious now. That doesn’t mean I’ll be anxious forever” or “I’m choosing this marriage today. I’m choosing to learn about love right now. I can’t predict what will happen ten or thirty years, but I’m making a choice based on what I know today. And that’s the best I can do.” As one of the mentors on the Conscious Weddings E-Course forum recently wrote,
“I would also strongly encourage all women on here to not focus so much on it “working forever.” Forever is such a daunting time period. Forever. Really, how do we know what’s going to happen in that time frame? Instead, break it into smaller increments. Can it work for the next year? 6 months? 1 month? Week? Day? Hour? Minute? That made it MUCH more manageable for me during my most intense anxiety. Forever… we don’t know what will happen to us tonight or next week. How can we predict what will happen “forever” from now? We can’t.”
For my clients who are suffering through a break up, the common question is, “Will this grief last forever?” The grief of heartbreak is so profound and touches the deepest layers of soul that it feels like it will never end; it’s like being in a swimming pool where all you see, touch, hear, feel and smell is the water of grief. Some of the healing work during a break up is continually reminding my client, friend, or relative that this grief will end. It’s a practice, once again, of surrendering completely to this painful moment while holding the broader context that in five minutes or three hours another experience will emerge. Grief arrives in waves; you feel like you’re going to drown when it hits full force but a few hours later you’re functioning perfectly fine at work. Reminding yourself of this cycle helps manage the pain when it hits and allows you to accept that it’s just this moment.
Life is continual change. Just this morning, I was lying in bed listening to my two boys bouncing on the bed together. They were laughing and making up games, and I flashed on the early weeks and months of motherhood when Everest (my firstborn) went through a stage when he would say to me every night, “I don’t want a brother anymore.” I knew that we were all adjusting to the monumental transition of adding a baby to our threesome family unit and that his feelings of resentment and grief were normal, but it was holding the far-reaching context that he wouldn’t feel that way forever that allowed me to accept it without reservation in the moment. And sure enough, here we are two years later and I’m quite certain that Everest has no memory of those early feelings.
At the heart of every spiritual practice is learning to live in the present moment. The key word in that sentence is practice. One of the many beauties in approaching transitions with consciousness is that they provide crystallized opportunities to hone this practice. For whether it’s enduring first trimester sickness or slogging through the mud of a break up, remembering to focus on one moment at a time is a skill that will serve you not only through the current challenge but for the rest of your life.