Sometimes I have moments where an idea will pop into my head out of nowhere and on the train the other day, that happened to my pleasant surprise. Catching myself getting stuck in the future, as I often do, the term ‘Planxiety’ came to me and I laughed to myself and thought: Is that ridiculous? But then I thought, actually, maybe not.
How often have you found yourself daydreaming or worrying about what might happen, making plans, finding yourself anxious about not knowing what’s going to happen and getting lost in endless hypothetical situations? (No? Just me? Kay.)
The answer for me is countless times. While some people find themselves deeply entrenched in their past decisions and experiences (a place I can often find myself too), I find myself unconsciously floating off into another dimension of possibility which isn’t even real. When you think about that, it’s a bit mad isn’t it? Why am I spending so much time and expending so much mental energy on something abstract that isn’t even real yet? Even the past isn’t technically real anymore, it’s been and gone. Nevertheless, I realise now that this being stuck in the future is fundamentally a self-soothing tactic. It’s our overprotective brains trying to ready ourselves for any potential threats by predicting potential scenarios or outcomes, but man, it’s exhausting being stuck in the land of ‘What If?’. And on the flip-side, as the great John Mayer says: “I can’t keep running after yesterday.”
After having read and studied Eckhart Tolle’s massively acclaimed book The Power of Now, it blew my mind how he was able to simplify our anxieties as humans in such a stripped-back way. He discusses the present moment and how if we can tune into it more and more, it will change our lives. And his viewpoints on this certainly shook up my own perspectives and allowed me to feel more grounded by the day, rather than floating up with the clouds of the past or the future.
He explains how all of our anxieties that we feel or create live either in the past or the future, what he calls ‘psychological time’ as opposed to ‘real time’. If you are completely connected to the present moment – that is, really feeling where you are right now, being so aware that you almost feel electric, really seeing your surroundings – all of those anxieties will simply dissolve. There have been a few clashes with Tolle’s logic, which I can understand – obviously this doesn’t apply to you if you’re in the middle of a car crash or something else immediately traumatic; any anxiety experienced in that particular present moment isn’t going to dissolve, quite the opposite, so you have to take his thoughts with a handful of salt (especially the spiritual jargon). But the premise of his theory is quite hard-hitting like a splash of cold water to the face:
“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”
When I read this quote for the first time, I had to reread it several times. Time… is an illusion? Time is an illusion. Damn. It’s something we’ve entirely made up as a species. The only that really exists is what’s here right now. So why should anything else (future anxieties, past regrets, anything keeping us stuck) even matter?
Once I’d digested this idea, I went for a walk to chew on it even more, putting his words into practice. To really feel what it was like to ‘be’ present or to just ‘be’. Leading up to that point, I thought it was just a load of self-help nonsense and didn’t really understand the concept at all, in fact, I resisted it entirely.
But then I absorbed this book so much that what I’m about to say will actually sound a bit bonkers, so perhaps take it with a wheelbarrow of salt: I felt like I could actually see for the first time. When I immersed myself in the present on this walk, I noticed the detail of the leaves on the trees, the grooves in the buildings, the textures of the brick houses, the curves of the roads; I felt that electric feeling of being ‘alive’ – and yes, I was completely sober. Perhaps that was my first taste of transcendental meditation? Or freedom from tired, old thought loops? Or perhaps someone slipped something into my vegan sausage roll that morning? Who knows.
That feeling was calming and grounding, so I tried to do this more and more every day – which is not as easy as it seems. But lo and behold, my Planxiety did begin to subside and it really did dissolve when I tuned into where I was at that moment, when I realised the distant future didn’t matter, because it simply wasn’t real. And what can be more important, more precious, more real than what is right here in front of us, right now? We could be wiped out by a comet in the next ten minutes and we’d never know, so what a tragedy it would be to know that we’ve wasted our lives in a universe that doesn’t even exist yet. Indeed, Eckhart writes:
“It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.”
So whenever I catch myself with classic symptoms of Planxiety – worrying, mostly, about future plans, events, relationships, life path, career stuff, read: ANYTHING – I pull myself back down to earth like a humble helium balloon by just looking around me, noticing what’s happening, or not, and in truth, getting a little spaced out by it. But once you find that space, you will realise how ridiculous the human condition is and how much joy and freedom exists in the here and now. As soon as you can make that distinction, it’ll lighten the load of whatever you’ve been fretting about, because most likely, while it may have been once or may potentially be in the future, it isn’t even real! *Insert mind-blown emoji here*