Have you ever had to prepare for a natural disaster? My friend had moved to Florida and was facing the threat of her first hurricane. She described rushing around to Costco, Home Depot, the supermarket, the drugstore, the gas station—busily getting all the supplies on the Emergency Kit lists. Even four days before the hurricane was due to arrive, all the stores were out of D batteries—the ones needed to power lanterns and fans (nothing like summer in Florida without air conditioning when the power goes out). In the midst of her frantic efforts, she realized she was doing more than simply preparing for whatever might happen, she was also reacting to the situation with fear.
It wasn’t so much the missing batteries (she eventually found a few), but the lack of control when facing Mother Nature on a rampage. Oh, she could make sure she had enough peanut butter and bread and granola bars and plenty of water to survive for days without cooking, but what if her roof blew off? What if the house flooded? Would alligators be roaming around? Water moccasins?
It’s not just the anticipation of a natural disaster like a hurricane that can send us spinning in circles of “what if’s.” Have you ever found yourself facing some sort of threat? Maybe it’s having to see your ex at an event you’re both invited to. Maybe it’s hearing a doctor say those words, “You have cancer.” Maybe it’s coming face to face with your abuser. What if? What if?
Think of how often you have had thoughts of “what if.” Can you feel the fear behind those thoughts? What, exactly, are you scared of? Try to pinpoint the fear behind the tape looping inside you of “what if.” Examine it. You will find, at least in the previous examples, it comes down to a fear of death (the “you have cancer” scenario), the fear of pain and shame (as in facing your abuser), or the fear of humiliation (meeting up with the ex). Note that all your fears are based on what might happen in the future, not what is happening right now.
The fear might be fed by what has happened in the past. Perhaps a parent or sibling has died of cancer. Perhaps the memory of past abuse overshadows the present. Perhaps the betrayal that led to your ex becoming your ex is a sharp reminder of the pain and humiliation you felt back then.
So there you are—stuck between the past and the future. Can you stop long enough to enter the present? In the here and now, you are fine. And who knows what will happen? Perhaps the cancer is slow growing and easily treated. Perhaps your old abuser will seek your forgiveness. Perhaps your ex, instead of tearing you down, will express gratitude for all he got from the relationship.
Here are some possible results of other “what if’s.” What if being diagnosed with a deadly disease leads to your reinventing your lifestyle and getting much healthier all around? What if facing your abuser gives you a sense of self-confidence you never had before? What if meeting up with your ex bolsters your self-esteem?
So what should you do when you find yourself caught in a “what if” moment? For me, meditation, is always the answer. In that space, there is no past or future, there is only the present. Rest in that space. Now you can make your preparations for whatever “hurricane” may be threatening your peace of mind, without fear.
By the way, that hurricane my friend was facing? Turned out it was nothing but a garden variety tropical storm.