If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present
― Lao Tzu
This quote made me cringe as I read it on the internet a few weeks ago. There is some truth in these words, but there is also a lot of myth and misunderstanding.
Depression can be situational, and it can be related to the past, the present or the future. If you didn’t get to go to the dance you wanted to attend last week and you’re still feeling sorry for yourself, then you are living in the past. If you are depressed because you are sick and stuck at home today, you are living in the present. If you are depressed because you didn’t get into the college of your choice, then your are grieving your future. All of these are valid reasons for one to grieve briefly. Staying in that place of grief and depression for an extended amount of time can become problematic, though.
Likewise, anxiety can be related to the present and the future. Anxiety can arise from standing in front of an empty fridge and pantry not knowing how to feed your hungry children. Stress, another component of anxiety, can arise as you stare at an exam question with no clue what the answer is even though you studied, attended class and did the readings. While a great deal of our anxiety is from borrowed trouble when we worry about what will happen in the future, there are times when anxiety can be very much a part of our present.
More importantly, anxiety and depression can both be responses to treatable physical conditions. While they make the past, present, and future seem stressful or dismal, the mental difficulties are tied to issues that require outside intervention. In these cases, changing your thoughts can’t bring you to peace. The range of things that can cause these emotional states is wide, but in my personal and professional experience, I have seen parasites, Lyme (especially when it is dying off), entities, mineral imbalances, hormonal imbalances, gut dysbiosis and brain chemistry issues all cause depression and anxiety; I'm certain there are other roots in addition to those I've listed. These are issues that will require some kind of outside assistance to change the physical problems that are creating the anxiety and depression.
While it’s true that most people who are living in the present will have less stress and depression, it’s also not always true. Anyone who has worked with people with Alzheimer’s disease can tell you that some patients are very distressed by the present. It is only when they are living in the past that they can find peace. Likewise, when we are undergoing a great deal of stress in the present day, we may turn to the past or the future to find a place of peace to calm ourselves. We might know that this job interview is rough, but when we get to the other side, we will have the job of our dreams (or if not, at least the ordeal will be over!). We might be dealing with a colicky screaming baby at 2 a.m., but we return to the vision of the beautiful laughing baby from earlier in the day to remind ourselves why it is all worth it.
Not all sayings from wise people are really that inspired. Some have elements of truth but have been generally disproven by experience and societal change. When something makes you cringe inside when you read it, take the time to examine where that response came from. Is the emotional reaction due to something that is challenging your boundaries and forcing you to grow? In that case, stay with the discomfort as you try to work through the idea that is hard to accept. On the other hand, is the saying missing the reality of your experience? If so, then discard its purported wisdom for what you know to be true.
©2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC