The first time I heard someone say, “Be where you are,” I’m pretty sure my mental response was a slightly snarky “and where else would I be?” In my twenties, I thought I was pretty adept at “being in the now.” Spontaneous, fun-loving and confident, I didn’t think of myself as anxious or worried about the future. In actuality, I was a somewhat obsessive “over-thinker” who tried to avoid negative experiences by queuing up a myriad of contingency plans. In most cases, this made me feel safe and in control – and sometimes, I could then relax my mind, feeling satisfied that I had thought of everything. Ultimately, this was a lot more like “controlling” than “being.” I can tell you now that being where you are feels very different than trying to control where you are. Being, at the core, implies a state of mental rest that is based on trust in something greater than your own thoughts and plans. It is the ability to lean into the moment, even when it is uncomfortable, difficult or disappointing and simply breath it in… accepting it for what it is.
The experience of pregnancy and labor brings you face to face with the raw reality that powers larger than your own are controlling your life experience. Through no overt effort of your own, your belly grows… a human being is formed within you. At a time not of your choosing, labor begins for reasons science still does not completely understand and progresses along a trajectory you can neither anticipate nor control. You ride with the swells of labor pains and you cooperate with your body and baby to release a baby into the world. It’s easy to recognize that we don’t cognitively make the baby within us grow faster to suit our schedule. We don’t decide when labor will begin. We don’t set the pace or determine the intensity of contractions. We don’t control how long it takes our baby’s head to mold. When we find a way to be with these experiences from a place of acceptance, rather than fighting them or seeking to control them, we relax (mentally, emotionally and physically) and the experience itself is actually affected in positive ways. When we over-think, try to control, or otherwise fight the unpleasant aspects of labor, we actually interfere with its positive progress. This is a simple truth that I see evidenced in every single labor. Doulas frequently encourage their clients with words like, “Don’t fight the contraction… let it come… welcome it… expand around it…” Behind all of these words lies the idea of accepting the intense feelings of labor. For many of us, this is counter-intuitive. We live lives of comfort and we tend to try to avoid discomfort, not welcome it. And yet, when you even just begin to think of the obvious inconveniences and discomforts that are inherit with parenting, it’s not hard to see that embracing a mental habit that is more accepting of personal discomfort, might be especially wise for people embarking on the adventure of parenthood- and, in fact, it’s wise for all of us. It’s easy enough to “be where you are” and “accept what is” when we like the experience - the rub comes, when we don’t, right?
Now, if I’m honest, I’ll admit that I’m not really a fan of unpleasant experiences. I try to avoid them and when I can’t, my first response to dealing with an experience I don’t like is to try to change it to make it something I would like better. Apparently, as natural as that might seem to many of us, it’s easy to see that at the center, that’s a rather controlling response – and it has all kinds of poor implications for relationships, wellness, work, spirituality and life in general. “I don’t like this, so I’m going to avoid it, fight it, or otherwise try to change it” is not a motto you read on t-shirts and coffee cups for good reason. It’s not a healthy approach to life.
So how do we learn to “be in the now” in labor and in life? How do we lean into the difficult moments of life? How do we accept what is without trying to change it? It seems to me there must first be an underlying trust in something greater than yourself… your own thoughts, plans and personal experiences. Trust will pave the way toward an emotional acquiescence that releases the fear-grip of trying to control… and opens your heart to accepting what is, without trying to change it. It also involves a recognition that everything is always changing and that there is genuine value in very challenging experiences. I’ll have more to say about change and challenge in future blog posts.
But how, specifically, do you do this? Well, you start by being willing to let go of the illusion of control. You then believe that you can truly discover a way of “being where you are” that is peaceful, even when you are in difficult, painful circumstances. You take action to practice nurturing the habits of mind and heart that foster this belief. For many of us, brain training and re-scripting the stories we tell ourselves is necessary. Having a doula who will support your mental and emotional journey, as well as your physical one, will help. The Client section on our website includes many practical tips and tools to help you develop the practice of “being where you are” for labor and for life. I'd suggest starting with "7 Ways to Promote Peace of Mind."