“Whatever the present moment contains, embrace it as if you had chosen it yourself.” ~Eckhart Tolle
The second hand on the clock ticked to 12 like a base runner returning home. It was 9:00AM on Monday morning.
Anxiety set in as I stared at the stack of papers on my desk. Budgets needed to be balanced, new clients needed to be obtained, and advertising campaigns needed to be launched for high-profile brands.
Everybody needed something. It was my first day as an Advertising Executive and I already knew I was in trouble.
In a few hours I was scheduled to meet with my first client, a Fortune 500 retail brand.
I was not new to the advertising world, but I was stepping into a major promotion, and this was the first global account I would be directing alone.
I was terrified. I arrived early for the meeting and waited nervously in the conference room. It was clear during the meeting that this corporation had high expectations and a low tolerance for mistakes.
I played it cool, but the heat was on. Inside I felt resistance. “I used to be an artist. Now I’m a business executive?” I thought. “How did I get myself into this?”
I wanted to run away, but I had nowhere to go. The only way to release my fear, I finally realized, was to change my focus. “Stick with it,” I kept telling myself, even when frustration weighed on me like a ton of bricks. “Stick with it.”
Human beings have evolved a physiological reaction to avoid danger by any means necessary. This impulse compels us to destroy any threat we face; and if the threat is too big to destroy, we opt for plan B. We run.
This is known as the fight or flight response, a survival mechanism built into our DNA to ensure we don’t get eaten by tigers or beheaded by cranky neighbors.
In prehistoric times, this response was valuable for our survival. Fast forward to the 21st Century. Today, in many ways, our cultural dynamics have evolved beyond our biological instincts.
For example, we no longer face the same daily threats we did in paleo, or even feudal, times. But our egos still react to external conflict, however insignificant, with a fight or flight response, causing us to perceive threats that do not exist. We run away, in many cases, from shadows.
When facing a legitimate threat, the fight or flight instinct is very helpful. But when no legitimate threat is present, the fight or flight response can create fear and anxiety in situations that don’t require either.
People (myself included) will often sit down on their couch at home and, in spite of the fact that they are perfectly safe, experience feelings of intense worry and anxiety. This anxiety has the tendency to manifest as either fight or flight. It’s in our biological code.
If we choose fight, we become abusive to ourselves and those around us. If we choose flight, we become absent and disconnected.
Why do we tend to feel worry and anxiety, even when we are safe? Because we are allowing our emotions to react to a false narrative. The struggle for survival experienced by our ancestors is embedded into our collective unconscious.
In modern civilization, this narrative expresses itself as resistance to, among other things, the peace of the present moment. Our worry causes us to over-complicate life.
“Only fools are happy,” our ego says. “I know something is bound to go wrong. And when it does, I’ll be ready.” We resist the present moment. And whenever we resist, we struggle.
What you resist, persists. But embracing your struggle is the end of fear.
Running from your environment is like running from a mirror because you don’t like the unhappy face in the reflection. You can run to a different mirror (and another, and another) but you will continue to see the same unhappy reflection until you stop running and start smiling.
Your environment will not change until you change first.
It’s normal to feel stuck, but the more you resist the present moment and try to escape, the more stuck you will feel.
Instead of running, use each moment, especially the bad ones, to practice being fully present. Living in the moment is a habit. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.
As you continue to live in the present moment, peace and happiness become effortless. Acceptance of the present moment is the end of fear and anxiety.
It seemed like an eternity, but only an hour had passed. I looked at the clock. 10:00AM. It was still Monday, my first on the job, and I already wanted out.
I felt threatened and my fight or flight response kicked in. I wanted to run. But I didn’t. Instead, I took a deep breath, walked to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, walked back to my desk, and took another deep breath. Inhale… exhale… inhale… exhale.
I dove in and embraced my job with abandon, releasing my ego and accepting the present moment. When things went smoothly, I trusted the flow. When things fell apart, I trusted the flow. When I made mistakes (and I made several), I trusted the flow to find a solution.
I gave my best effort, and released attachment to results.
Everything changed. Not only did I stop feeling insecure about my job, but I was soon promoted to a leadership role within the company. Were things perfect? No. But changing my perception caused a ripple effect that changed my thoughts and actions, and my environment changed as a result.
The culture of my agency didn’t change overnight, but as I chipped away at the resistance within myself, the challenges I faced in my environment disappeared in equal proportion.
We all face fear. This fear triggers our fight or flight response and causes us to struggle and resist the present moment. What if you tried, instead of running from fear, sticking with it?
Letting go of resistance, especially when you want to resist the most, puts you in a state of flow, and from a state of flow we tune into a wider perspective and access higher levels of creativity, happiness, and peace.
The moments in your life flow like a stream. By accepting the flow of the moment as it is, this stream will inevitably guide you to the rivers and oceans of your purpose. And one day you will look back with gratitude on the challenges that elevated your environment to align with your intentions.
Fearful man image via Shutterstock