NDJ:8 Jill Newberger, PhD

In Time We Speak: Minding Mindfulness

A pinch of time. A dash, or is it stash, of money. A lump of desire. A heap of need. Mix, stir, and pour. What do you have? A cocktail called anxiety.

We live in a society soaked in anxiety: too little time despite all our labor saving devices and uber connectedness, too little money owing to global recessions, financial fraud, too many wars to count, too little desire because everything is a commodity and can be bought and sold and is, too few of our needs properly tended to because virtual reality and the flat screen replace the three-dimensionality and flesh of human contact.

This is the anxiety that our patients bring to us and to which we, ourselves, are not immune. The preferred antidote at this particular time, in this particular place called America, is mindfulness. We are told that inner peace can be obtained by being totally present in the moment. In the world of the here and now, worries will fall away; time will always be sufficient, and money, too. In the present moment, in this very minute, this very second, there are no unmet desires or needs. There is not a balance beam of width to think on what those might be. In this land of the temporal, there is no eternal, no history, no memory. Surely we have stumbled upon the recipe for utopia.

Why then the persistent radioactive levels of anxiety? Perhaps we are anxious because we continually fall short of living mindfully, of living in the here and now, while forever pining to succeed? Or is it the malaise of ahistoricism?

When there is no sense of history, the disasters that befall us must, perforce, always be the worst disasters that have ever befallen humankind. When the span of time is shortened to now, then real concerns about money and unmet need and desire can find no resting place. They are banished, exiled, or end up walking the plank, as ghosts and visions, to which no attention should be paid — but to which, in our human frailty, we direct all our focus.

Could it be that patients are willing to spend hours and dollars meeting with us because in our small (or spacious) offices, history — both personal and collective — is still welcomed? Patients may chafe at how long therapy takes and how much it costs, but they come anyway, bucking the current trends and naysayers. Perhaps they come because they know that only inside our consultation rooms can they remember and dream, wander aimlessly in reverie, as do we. Here there is a place for time and for timelessness; for money and for impoverishment of every sort; for desire and for its lack; for need and for needlessness; for love and for hate. Where else can such a gymnasium be found, where all parts of the self can be exercised and worked, bringing forth both pain and pleasure?