“If you worry about what might be, and wonder what might have been, you will ignore what is.” ~Unknown
A few weeks ago, I learned that my beloved dog, Bella, had become ill with kidney disease—a condition that will most likely not allow her to live longer than a year. I was devastated when I heard this news. At only eight years old, Bella didn’t seem old enough to be so sick, let alone be a year (or less) away from dying. Coping with her condition and the impending loss has been incredibly difficult—nearly impossible at times—but amid all of the pain and anxiety, I’ve come to one powerful conclusion: Life is too unpredictable not to enjoy the moment.
The number of moments I have left with Bella—or with anyone, for that matter—are unknown. For the past three years (ever since I launched my blog, Positively Present), I’ve tried to focus on living in the now, but nothing has made that goal clearer than Bella’s recent diagnosis. Realizing my time with her is limited makes every minute even more important. That being said, staying present is still a daily battle. In the throes of my constantly racing thoughts—How long will she live? Is she feeling okay? Why isn’t she eating? What does the vet’s tone really mean?—it’s been incredibly difficult to enjoy the time I have with Bella.
And, unfortunately, more often than not I find myself living not in the moment, but in the future, worrying about what will become of Bella and my life without her. Worrying about the future has been severely hindering my ability to live fully in the present moment, which is what I need to do most in this limited time I have left with my precious pup. Knowing the importance of living in the moment is one thing; taking action is another. It can be challenging to live in the now when then now is tough, but I’ve discovered a few tactics and tips to help me stay focused on the moment—and enjoy every minute I have with Bella.
Here four ways to stay present—even when life is painful:
1. Realize thoughts are not necessarily reality.
When my mind is heavy with worry, my racing thoughts—filled with what-ifs and imagined scenarios—take control. Things that have not happened—and might never happen!—can seem so real. For example, earlier today Bella was limping and I was certain the vet would tell me that her disease had worsened, and we’d need to take some drastic action. I spent a good part of my morning dreading the appointment at the vet and worrying about the potentially terrible outcome.
When the vet took a look at her paw, he found that her nails, which had been causing her a bit of pain, just needed to be clipped. In less than a minute, she was good as new, putting her full weight on her paw. This is a perfect example of how our thoughts can take control and distract us from the present. Rather than looking at the facts—Bella’s paw was hurt, the vet was going to take a look, and hopefully she’d be okay—my mind wandered into negative (and imaginary) territory.
Staying in the present requires recognizing the difference between what-ifs and what is.
2. Use breathing to center you in the now.
When I’m really stressed out, I’ll take a few deep breaths to calm myself before taking action or allowing myself to launch into overanalyzing the situation currently plaguing me. When I first found out about Bella’s diagnosis, I wanted to panic, to scream and cry, and find someone—anyone—to blame. My initial reaction came from a plethora of imagined scenarios—she wouldn’t live longer than a week, she would be miserable, she would be in terrible pain—rather than what was really happening in that moment.
Instead of reacting instantly, I paused and took three deep breaths. In those moments, I came back to the now and realized I didn’t yet know much about her diagnosis. I realized I would talk to the vet, take the best action possible, and make the most of the time I had with her. With each breath, I exhaled panic and fear and inhaled peace and acceptance. No matter what the situation, there is always time for a deep breath, for a pause that will bring you back to the moment.
3. Stop comparing now to then.
When I feel Bella’s thinning body or see her spending more and more time curled up on the couch, it’s hard for me not to compare the way she is now—thinner, more mellow, less playful—to what she was just a few weeks ago. However, comparison is one of the quickest ways to leave the moment and find yourself dragged back into the past.
When changes occur (especially negative changes), it’s difficult not to compare, to want things to be what they once were, but these comparisons are nothing but trouble. The more I accept what is happening now—even when it’s painful—the more I am able to enjoy my time with Bella. Yes, I would love her to be the dog she once was, but wanting that won’t make it happen. It will only make it more difficult to enjoy the present—and that’s the last thing I want to do.
To make the most of the moment, you must accept what is and stop comparing it to what was.
4. Focus on the happy moments.
More and more I find myself dwelling on the difficult moments with Bella. I dread the morning and evening doses of medicine, which Bella detests. I experience almost as much anxiety as Bella when I have to take her to her increasingly frequent vet appointments. What I haven’t been doing, though, is allowing the positive experiences I have with her to be the focus. To make the most of the moments, I need to dwell on the times we share that are still so wonderful—the morning cuddles, occasional playtimes, and the affectionate licks.
No day is going to be perfect. I can choose to focus more on the happy moments than on the painful ones. As we all know, our minds are powerful things—and it’s up to us to guide them in a positive direction. If you’ve tried to stay present during stressful or difficult situations, you know just how hard living in the now can be at times. It’s easy and fun to live in the now when your nowis a happy one, but when times are tough, staying present is rough.
Even though coping with Bella’s disease is filled with heartbreak, when I stay in the present, I get to enjoy the moments I still have with her.