As I write this, my daughter is sleeping peacefully beside me. But several minutes ago, this was not the case. This past week was Spring Break so we haven’t been on a regular schedule. I’ve been letting her stay up later than usual, and tonight, without realizing it, suddenly it was 10 o’clock and she was deep in the clutches of an “I’m-Overtired” Meltdown.
She was lying on the bed, sobbing in stacatto gasps, crying “I can’t sleep! I tried and I can’t! I can’t! I can’t! I tried!”
I asked her to breathe slowly and deeply, but she was too far gone down the road of tantrumville to listen. I attempted reasoning with her (foolish), explaining that she needs to give it more than two minutes to “try” to sleep. But she was committed to her story, declaring “I’ll NEVER be able to sleep!”
I knew enough to know that she was in her head, making pictures of this awful future where sleep could not be had – a faulty conclusion she’d come to based on her two minutes of “trying.” I also knew that attempting to get my child, in this moment, to follow my logic was useless. The only solution to bring her back from this imagined future of sleeplessness was to anchor her awareness back into the present.
In order to do that, I knew I needed to move her attention away from the pictures she was making in her mind (she’s very visual, like her mama) and back into her body. So I put my hand on her back and I said, “Where is mama’s hand?”
At first she was resistant, but she said, through her tears, “On my back.”
I moved my hand to her cheek and said, “Where is mama’s hand?”
She said, “On my cheek.”
I squeezed her shoulder and said, “Where is mama’s hand?”
“On my shoulder,” she said. By this time, her breath was beginning to slow to normal and she had stopped crying. I continued, moving my hand to her head, to her ear, to her neck, to her back, to her arm, to her cheek. “Where is mama’s hand?” I would say, and she would answer, her voice filling with relief and love.
I watched as her entire body calmed and quieted. Within four minutes, she was asleep.
All she needed to exit her nightmare was to release the images she was making of a terrible future and come back to the present moment, in which everything, she discovered, was actually okay. Mama’s hand was on her cheek, and she was okay.
Sometimes it’s so difficult for us to comfort ourselves like this. I am so often swept away by my own less-than-desirable visions of the future that I forget how simple – how essential – it is to anchor myself back to the present and just be here, now.
What I did for my daughter I can do for myself. I can anchor my experience back to the present by reminding myself I have a body. By touching my arms, my hands, my thighs, my feet, by feeling my own physical being and paying attention to the sensations of my own existence in this world of flesh and bone and matter.
When we are truly in the present moment, we cannot feel anxiety. Anxious thoughts arise only when we leave the moment we are actually in so that we can instead imagine a frightening future. So today, I invite you to come back. Come back to now. Use a phrase one of my favorite authors, Michael Brown, author of The Presence Process, recommends: I am here now in this.
Touch your body. Remind yourself that you’re here, in the world. Notice the way your entire system calms, as you come back to now.