The Perfect Present - Week 5 Of "Mental Muscle" Boot Camp

05/02/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Part seven in a series.

As I went through "Be Present" week of "Mental Muscle" Boot Camp, a life-changing experience from the past was never far from my thoughts.

Two years ago, a fight with a longtime friend escalated while I was at work and could not speak by phone. Fierce emails were traded back and forth. By the time I left the office that night, I was in a complete rage.

As I got in my car and turned the ignition, the fight continued in my head. My anger remained at a fever pitch as I planned out what I'd say the next time my friend and I might speak.

Then I remembered a passage from Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" about car accidents and a person's state of consciousness when they're involved in one. I recognized that I was not fully paying attention and primed to have an accident if I did not find a way to calm down.

Tolle's primary lessons are about being in "the present moment" or "the now." I took a deep breath and decided to put my focus squarely on what was happening in that exact moment and nothing else. I started out in silence, but my thoughts kept drifting back to the fight. I doubled my focus by speaking every thought about the present moment out loud.

"I am driving."

"I am driving and breathing."

"I am driving and looking at that red stop light."

"I am driving and watching that dog pee on the lawn."

....and so on, for the entire half-hour trek home.

By the time I walked into my apartment, I was completely calm. Whatever rage I felt was gone. The fight was now in the past and I was not about to interrupt the calm by bringing it back into the present.

With this experience, I ingrained an understanding of what it means to be fully engaged with the present moment. So, I wondered what reactions "Be Present" week in Boot Camp would bring up as I'd already incorporated this practice into my life.

One of James Mellon's directives was to take an hour and do something fulfilling that was "outside the norm." I was spooked by those words, "outside the norm", because I had no clue what that would be. I immediately went to the "Mental Muscle" blog to express that.

As I wrote that I already take an hour to do something fulfilling every day, a voice from the past rose up. During a breakup, someone said to me, "I think all you like to do is watch television and go to movies." With those words, I bought into a belief that my world is small and I am limited in what I like to do.

Three days later, James read that aloud during one of the chat sessions, and said, "Who gets to judge what you like to do? Maybe you're just specific in what you enjoy. How about that? How about getting rid of 'I am limited' and instead saying, 'I know me. I know who I am. I know what I like and I'm open to liking more things'?"

I had never thought of it that way. I held on to an ex-boyfriend's words for almost 20 years and allowed them to define me. This was just another reminder of how easy it has been to carry negative events from my past into the present.

Recently, I'd made a decision to welcome a new room-mate into my apartment. My landlord had final say over my choice. When we spoke, he made his reservations clear, but also said, "I trust and have faith in you and know you'll be responsible."

I didn't focus on that part of what he said at all. I was stuck on the fact that he had reservations about my choice. I was now rethinking a decision I had been solid with for days. The possibilities of what could go wrong came up. What if I was about to make a mistake?

This is a pattern. I tend to discount my own voice because I think people I trust know better for me than I know for myself.

I was with a friend and fellow Boot Camper, AJ, when I hung up the phone with my landlord. I talked out the fear, trying to understand why I was blocked when five minutes prior, I was so certain. Once I came to a conclusion, I thanked AJ for being there. He said, "I didn't do anything. You did it."

What I had done was recognize that I was trying to outguess the future, and therefore, not present. I can be incredibly fearful of making a mistake. It's as if I want to be absolutely perfect with every choice I make, so there will be no regrets.

Ultimately, I see that is all about a need for control and "staying safe." Of course, I don't want negative outcomes, but I can't control whether or not they happen.

In a way, this experience repeated itself on Monday. I wasn't feeling well and spent an hour debating whether I should call in sick to work. All I could think about was work getting backed up and how overwhelmed I would feel when I returned.

My present state of physical health and taking care of myself so I could be functional was less on my mind than future consequences from my absence. That is definitely not "the now." I wound up calling in.

Compared to the intensity of previous weeks of Boot Camp, I felt like I got a bit of a breather this week. At the very least, I am glad to be reminded that letting go of the past, and stopping projection into the future, can only lead to a perfect present.