“What you are is what you have been. What you’ll be is what you do now.” ~Buddha
These words resonate for me in a deeply personal way. The importance of being in the here and now, of recognizing that every moment is an opportunity to wake up to what is happening and what is possible, saved my life.
I was a compulsive eater out of my mother’s womb. The youngest of eight children in an abusive home, I used food to feel safe. I overate every day, hated myself for it, and yet could not stop.
I started addicted to food, and by my teenage years I was addicted to alcohol and drugs as well. By age twenty-four, I was designing my ending and talked regularly about taking my life. I was a fat, depressed drunk who hated herself, until a major shift happened.
I had recognized my self-harming behavior and had been in Overeaters Anonymous (OA) for months, but my patterns were the same. After meetings, I would go straight to the grocery store and then binge my brains out in the car, thinking, “Well, I’m not ready yet, and I am doing the best I can right now.”
Part of me was seeking something better and the other part was desperate; one part wanted to live and the other did not, but still I hung on to the belief that something might change.
Then came the day when I heard four words that rocked my world forever.
It was February, 1988. My latest New Year’s resolution to heal had died, and I was using food like crazy and drinking like a fish. There was a daylong OA conference, and as disappointed as I was in myself yet again, I knew I needed to go.
The very first speaker, a normal-sized woman, had a story similar to mine—a lifetime of yo-yo diets and self-hate. She talked about feeling desperate and determined at the same time, of living her life in two parts: the one who knew there was more and the one who felt defeated.
She talked about all of her excuses and stories and lies and self-betrayals, and how they were digging her grave deeper.
She, like me, had wanted out of the quicksand, and could never find a hand or a rod or anything to pull her out. Then, one day in a meeting, she had heard a woman share a similar story of attempts to save herself until her life was changed by four words. Those words would forever change the life of this woman and, as soon as she shared them, they changed mine too.
“If not now, when?”
When she shared those words, I burst into tears and experienced an actual physical release in my body, an earthquake in my cells. My world was literally rocked and my life forever changed. Just then, I got it.
If not now, when?
What was I waiting for?
As I cried, I thought, “How long am I going to play this game of dieting and cheating, dieting and lying to myself? How long will I walk this earth feeling so ashamed of myself? How much longer will I allow myself to hope for death, and fantasize about taking my life?”
If not now, when?
Until I heard this, I’d been sitting alone in a conference room full of people, feeling fat, isolated, stupid, useless, and helpless. The words took me home, home to who I was. Home to the person who was not defective, who was capable of healing and changing her story.
It all flooded in like a tidal wave as I sat there, weeping in pain and joy. I knew then that the part of me that wanted to die was right in a way: some things would have to die in order for me to live. This was my life, and I was taking my power back.
I danced my way through the rest of the day’s conference, feeling myself slowly crossing over from shame into glory. After this angel’s talk shifted the tectonic plates of my soul, I was home.
My most valuable, practical tool for being awake to the opportunities of the present is meditation. My daily meditation practice grounds me in the reality of the here and now, opening my eyes to how every moment is different and new.
We all know the power of procrastination, that horribly persuasive voice that sits on our shoulder and says, “You can give up that cookie tomorrow,” “You can love yourself next week,” “You can go to the gym next year.” “Meditation will be good for you when you are in your sixties.”
And we also know what happens when we listen: We put off our goals for so long that we finally give up.
There are literally millions of communities out there in the world, spiritual communities as well as meet up groups that were designed to help you kick that little voice to the curb. They are there to help you jump-start all those changes you’ve been promising yourself for years. And while meditating is a solitary act, being in a group setting (even if only to get you started) works just as well. That was how I got started.
One thing I know for sure is that when I face resistance head on, acknowledge it, stroke it, coddle it, and then ask for help, things shift. The procrastination monster subsides and things begin to lighten up and happen. I know the same will happen for you. There is a helping hand out there to guide you through what often feels like a stopped stuck place.
The following years have not been without their setbacks; the road to self-love and acceptance is not a purely easy one, but the gift of words this woman gave me has sustained me through all the ups and downs.
I learned from her that there is always another chance, there is always the now in which anything can happen, anything can change, anything is possible.
Every day, the first thing I do is meditate. I then go into my life knowing that today can be different, and that by living in the moment I can be my most honest, loving, healthy self.
If not now, when?