“Next you will come to the Sirens who beguile all men that approach them. Whoever encounters them unawares and listens to their voices will never joy at reaching home, his wife and children to greet him. Instead the Sirens’tempt him with their limpid song, as they sit there in the meadow with a vast heap of mouldering corpses, bones on which hangs the shriveled skin.”
Have you ever felt like the mighty Odysseus as in this quote from Homer’s classic tale, The Odyssey?
You’re having a perfectly fine conversation with your partner or the two of you are out on a much-needed date together and it happens. He uses a certain tone of voice. She looks at you in a particular way. The restaurant suddenly brings back a memory…and you’re lured away from the present moment.
Once the “song” of the past takes root in your mind, your attention goes back. Even as you sit there and maybe while you continue to carry on a conversation or even make love to your partner, you aren’t really there. You have been transported to the past.
We all know how important it is to be fully present in each moment. When you are present, you are more likely to accurately hear and understand what the other person is saying. When you are present, you can respond to what’s happening now in a manner that matches the intensity and facts of the situation.
To be present is smart advice, but it isn’t always easy to follow.
When a memory is triggered, it’s as if you can’t help yourself. The “call” of past experiences, past betrayals and even past happy moments in this or a former relationship draws you in and suddenly you aren’t attentive and available to your partner. In an instant, you aren’t really there; you’re someplace and some time far away.
You come off as distracted, uninterested, ambivalent and untrustworthy.
This cuts you off from not only effective communication and closer intimacy with your partner, it prevents you from experiencing this shared precious moment in time you could be having with the one you love.
Just about every single one of gives in to the Sirens’ call.
We have so many thoughts that move through our minds (and many of those thoughts have nothing to do with the present moment), it’s nearly impossible to censor ourselves and ban the past. What we do have the power to do is to make a choice once the memory or thought has taken hold and begins to lure us away.
Most of us forget our power because the past– even if it’s painful– can be so sexy. A fierce argument is alluring in its own way. The drama of a betrayal attracts our attention even though we were so hurt by it.
For whatever reason, the past can take hold of our thoughts in overwhelming ways regardless of the disconnection and alienation it can cause us right now and in the near future too.
Notice when you leave.
The tricky thing about the Sirens’ call of the past is that it’s difficult to know that you’ve checked out of the current conversation or shared moment. To return to presence, it’s absolutely essential to first notice that you’ve left.
Try to observe what happens when you get sucked back into a memory. Are there certain sensations in your body– a “spaced out” or fuzzy feeling? Are there certain situations or words that send you back to the past?
The sooner you recognize the signs that you’re not present, the sooner you can do what’s necessary to come home to the present moment.
Re-connect with yourself.
Even once you notice you’ve become caught up in a memory and are thinking, speaking and acting from the past, it’s not always simple or easy to just return to presence. As we said, even sad and angry memories can be alluring.
A shift in attention requires you to take care of your needs. When you realize you have left the present moment, ask yourself what you’re feeling and what you’re needing right now.
Do you need to take a break from this topic of conversation? Do you need a clarification to hear that this is different from a similar past experience? Do you need a hug? Do you need a glass of water and some fresh air?
As you do what you need to do to meet your needs, you can begin to re-connect with your surroundings and the people you’re with right now. Look around you and take inventory of the furniture, the temperature of the room, the ground beneath your feet and what your partner is actually saying.
As you re-connect with yourself, you return to what’s going on now…and you affirm your power to create a happier present moment too.