Turning future desires into present contentments

November 16 2018 | arielmstallings

Where are my fellow discontents? My fellow day-dreamers and strategizers and ladder climbers? This post is for you, my fellow folks who spend your days up in your heads, dreaming and scheming about how things would or could be better if you only had this, or if you only did that, or if this thing was different or that thing was changed.

I am an analyzer and a fixer, a problem solver and an action-taker. My favorite thing to do is recognize a discomfort, find a solution to the discomfort, and then make the solution happen. This is not a bad way to be (and certainly it's benefited me in many ways), but the price paid is that I'm almost never ever just HERE. I'm always finding a new discomfort, setting up a new ladder, climbing it, getting to the top, and then being like "Huh, I still don't feel the way I'd hoped I would — fuck this ladder! I shall find a new one to climb!" It's a terrible game of whack-a-mole, and the result is a lot of climbing with very little contentment.

As part of my mindfulness practice, I've been trying an exercise to focus more on the sensations and less on the specifics. I talked about it on Instagram recently, but I'm here to ramble about it a bit more:

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Transcript: "Ok so here's a thing I'm trying. If I know I don't wanna get all up in my head, craving things that I don't have, and strategizing and — oh shit, that's my favorite thing to do, is think about how things are wrong and how they could be better! What if I can picture in my head the experience that I would like to have, and then I can ground down and imagine the sensations in my body if I actually got it? So then instead of getting all disembodied brainy-planny (which is my fucking favorite thing to do), I could go into imaging body sensations. Like, 'oh I'd have a fluttering in my stomach' or like, [flaps hands excitedly] that thing that I do, and I think that then if you imagine those sensations, you get the experience in the now that you're looking for in the future. I don't know… I'mma try it."

A post shared by Ariel Meadow Stallings (@arielmstallings) on

The concept for me isn't about resisting the urge to notice and want to fix broken things (because especially in this geo-political climate, there's a lot that's broken, and a lot that needs fixing) but rather an effort to try to pull that future vision into the very embodied present moment.

Here's the thing with bodies and nervous systems: your body listens to your brain. It's part of what sucks about ambient anxiety: your brain starts telling your body that something's wrong, and your body is like "Ok brain says something's wrong — RUN!!!" and then your whole nervous system is like RUN! RUN! RUNNNN!!! …but the actual physical reality may that you're laying in your warm, dry, safe home, and there's nothing to run from and actually what you need most is just need to eat, bathe, and breathe… as in, you need to rest.  (For more about this concept, I recommend the book Come As You Are.)

So if I know that my body is taking cues from my brain, then can I make the conscious choice to pause from the anxiety for a moment, and give my body positive information? If I know I benefit from staying present in the now, not getting ahead of myself, not being in a state of constant future panic and anxiety, then can I use my overactive brain to give my body positive input?

Cool concept, bro. Give me an example?

Here's how this might look, using a real-time example from my life this week:

  • My biggest desire right now is to sell my fucking second book! I wrote it two years ago, and then it's just been a very long frustrating process involving three literary agents, several different titles, never-ending revisions, slow moving publishers, a print publishing industry in shift, etc etc.
  • Ok, stop. Close the eyes. Take a breath. What do I think it would feel like if this book finally sold? How would my experience be different? What would the sensation in my body be? (Excited stomach! Flappy hands!) How would my life look different? What would it taste like? (Champagne!?) What would it smell like? What noise would I make when I got the call from the publisher?  Focus on tangible, sensory perceptions — not concepts ("success") but sensations (what does success feel like?)
  • Sit with it for a moment. Keep breathing. Go through all five senses.
  • Open the eyes
  • Notice how the body feels now
  • Get back to work

The theory here is that instead of being all up in my head in a state of wanting, craving, future-casting, I just gave my body a flood of rewards in the present. I imagined my stomach fluttering, the taste of champagne on my lips, the squeal I would make on the phone, the ridiculous hopping around the room I would do, how the arms of my beloveds would feel when I told them and they gave me congratulatory hugs, the tingle of my hands when I high fived my son! By imagining all those future things that I might feel, I just gave my body a flood of wonderful feelings IN THE NOW. 

Basically, I just made that future sensation happen right now. Do I even need to sell the book now? Or wait, if I think selling the book would feel like hugging friends, why not hug some friends right now!?

Instead of being all up in my head spinning and looping and thinking about how things aren't ideal now, and how I want them to be different, I've given my nervous system a little tour of positive sensation. I feel… kind of nice? It's not that I don't still want the thing that I want, it's that I'm regrounded in my body in the present moment and it's pretty great here, actually.

Ok, so is this just "manifesting"?

Naw. I'm not really into that word, or even that concept. I don't think this practice makes it any more likely that I will actually get what I want. I mean, sure: being in a less anxious, self-loathing, striving mindframe might make for a state of more ease, that would facilitate being better able to get shit done, but I don't think the practice makes your dreams come true.

This isn't a manifestation exercise, or secular witchcraft. If I've learned anything about myself and my goal-focused inclinations, it's that sometimes I pick goals that actually aren't great for me. I can't be the only one who's picked a ladder, worked very hard to make it happen (when sometimes it really shouldn't be happening), and then gotten what I wanted and realized it did not bring me the experience I thought it would… I want that thing! I got that thing! But oh shit thing was actually a terrible fit for me and that's why it wasn't happening and it did not bring me the sensations I expected at all and now I just worked really hard for something that was a very bad choice for me.

Part of what this exercise has taught me is that there are a lot of different ways to get the sensations I might be looking for. A friend of mine who's going through a very painful separation realized that her desires in her life were to feel connection and peace, two things she thought she'd find through a partnership and a two-parent family. Oddly, she's started to realize that she's finding more connection and peace as a single parent. The sensations she enjoys are actually quite separate from the vision of what she wanted.

Anyway! This is just a theory I'm testing out with myself — anyone tried anything similar? As always with more spiritual / woo stuff, I'm pretty inexperienced with this kind of thing and am sorta stumbling along trying to figure it out. I'd love to hear what y'all are learning, or how you think you'd apply this to your lives….

  1. Ariel, I hear you SO HARD right now. I've actually been looking for a way to do exactly this (because focusing on those future big goals with every other breath and every idle thought just isn't serving me). I've already done this exercise twice in the last half hour.

    I think this is going to be one of those things that's a practice. I'll keep falling out of it and have to come back to it, and maybe someday I'll be able to do it for much longer (THERE I GO AGAIN, I can't even look at the not-looking-at-future-goals without looking at future goals in it).

    I'll be in the corner.

    3 agree
    • Ha! Goal setting about goal setting… #itme

      Here's a different way to look at it: if you gave yourself in just a couple brief moments of non-anxious future looping, then that's a couple more than you had before!

      With mindfulness/presence practices like this, it's so easy to be like WHY CAN'T I BE PRESENT ALL THE TIME I SUCK WHY EVEN BOTHER. But sustainable shift is tiny and incremental. You're doing it right! ♥️

      1 agrees
  2. I practice allowing myself to have some aspect of my ideal NOW, which I learned from The Artist’s Way. There is also an exercise very similar to what you describe in Martha Beck’s book Steering by Starlight.

    My favorite misbelief is that I am no good at “daily life” and cannot be happy in it (as opposed to travel and strange circumstances). I am trying to unlearn the idea that “daily life” means I am limited to work and a dull home life of chores and TV. If my daily life is going to improve, the logic goes, it will require me to do a bunch of shit and work really hard and theeenn maybe someday, I will have fun. -OR- I could just do the Ariel method and feel happy now.

    3 agree
  3. YAS! I love this. I've definitely become what I hate- never being fully present, always thinking about something else or doing multiple things at once. I've recently gotten into witchcraft (baby baby beginner), as a lot of the practice has to do with intention- much like the LOA. Its all about your mindset, babyyyy.. its the simplest, yet the most complex answer to basically everything I've been trying to "fix" about myself. Thanks for the practical implementations. I'm starting today. <3 <3

    2 agree
  4. …aaand this is why I still have this ridiculus fangirl-crush on you since I first stumbled about a post about how pushing a stroller feels weird and thinking "man, she gets me."

    2 agree

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