Module 3 - Part 2: Stay Present
Once you’ve relaxed and cleared your mind, all you need to do is maintain. Sounds easy, but I’ve found that presence in the moment is more difficult to maintain than to acquire. Sure, we can quiet ourselves and relax for a second. But after a little while – less than a minute, if you’re like me and prone to frantic overthinking – our minds tend to balk at continuous silence.
One refrain from many of the sleep meditations I use is this: Don’t stress, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up if your thoughts pop back up and wander. You’re not bad at this; wandering awareness is normal! Just gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Focus on the rhythm of your breath. Keep it steady at a pace that feels natural to you. Anytime your attention wanders, just refocus on the breath. If the breath isn’t quite working for you, try tracking your heartbeat. I sometimes count my pulse so my mind is a bit more engaged.
Placing yourself in this state of calm and quiet awareness will help you regulate your emotions. And for challenging conversations with your partner, emotion regulation is crucial.
Another key benefit of cultivating this calm awareness and presence in the moment is increased attentiveness to your partner. And by attentiveness, I mean to their emotional state. When you have a calm center, you can much more easily read your partner. I’ve noticed particular improvement in noticing my partner’s tonal inflections without reacting emotionally to them. I can pick up clues from their tone of voice even if they’re otherwise calm, and taking that extra moment to notice any change helps set up a distance of rationality, if you will. Rather than just reacting without thinking, I take that moment of awareness to recognize what I’m interpreting their tone as, and then I can ask them if I’m reading them correctly instead of reacting straightaway.
This moment of thought before reacting has saved me many disagreements born of assumptions.
Now sometimes for all our best efforts, it feels impossible to stay calm. In that situation, I recommend stepping back for 10+ minutes to re-center yourself. It’s okay to step back and take some time to yourself; I do it all the time. A gentle “Hey, I’m not happy with where my emotions are. I’d like to take ten minutes to myself” can be a healthy step for you both. I also try to say “I love you” before taking my time. It’s a nice way to reinforce how much I care for my partner, difficult emotions aside.
The important thing to do is use that time to return to a calm, open mind. It might feel tempting to spin yourself up, but ultimately that won’t help you approach the conversation any more productively. Instead, do something you find relaxing – something that returns you to the present moment. I like to meditate or listen to some wordless songs (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or the Cinderella 2015 soundtracks are some of my favorites!) and end with 60 seconds of silence and deep breathing.
I use my breath to reconnect with the world around me. See, when we focus in on relaxing and breathing, we become more aware of subtle things around us. The hum of the air conditioning, the trickle of rain on a window, our heartbeat, even the sound of our breath entering and leaving our bodies.
Sometimes if I’m having particular difficulty calming myself, I use visuals too. I’ll watch a flickering fireplace video for a few minutes, or watch a pendulum swinging back and forth.
But if my emotions are rapidly climbing in the moment, sometimes I use a brief phrase while I control my breathing. Some of my favorites are: “It’s okay, you’re okay,” “Just breathe,” “You’re a boss and you got this.” That last one is my favorite for anxiety spirals.
I usually use the first two when I’m nervous, sad, or angry.
Hopefully, these suggestions give you some ideas of your own, too. Try different methods of keeping and maintaining relaxation and see what works for you. Have fun with it! This is your time to reach that calm center of yourself. And the more you reach for that place, the easier it will come to you. That way you can be totally present and in the moment with the one you love.