Recovery or Transformation? How to Focus on the Now

Meditations on Life

Many times when we discuss a term like recovery, we can’t help but imagine the act of returning to a ‘normal state’, as if someone who’s in recovery goes back in time to find something they lost, be it innocence, faith, love, health, or anything else which inspires a life worth living. But the problem with this connotation of the term and the illusion it wholeheartedly engenders irks me to say the least.

Since it is literally impossible to go back in time, and it is equally impossible for human beings to return to any past state of being (though try we might), I propose that the term recovery is a sham.

That’s right guys. We’ve been duped by a long-accepted misunderstanding that has shaped our societal beliefs in terms of how we talk about and view sickness, health, and the many layers in between.

In case you’re not buying my argument, let me break it down bit by bit. I’ll start at the beginning.

Brand Spanking New

Every moment that we experience in the universe is a brand new moment. Even when you relive an old memory, you’ve still never experienced that precise thought under those exact same conditions. The memory may be similar to other thoughts you’ve had before, but your mood might have changed, causing you to feel slightly different about it, or maybe you’re wearing a more comfortable outfit and feeling more relaxed, allowing you to analyze the thought in a deeper, more analytical way.

Of course, we must also face the fact that our memories are flawed and impermanent, and there’s no guarantee that the thought you’re calling up to mind is anything like the actual event that happened in the past. The recording will never fully match the record.

But here’s the catch: there is no record.

Nothing about the past actually exists in the present. Let that sink in for a moment.

The only association the present has to the past exists in wisps of naturally contrived human thought, which we affectionately call memories. Varying accounts of nearly every historical event that ever happened are good evidence of our inability to put our fingers on the past, if nothing else.

To recover then, to return to a state of previously experienced normalcy, denotes first off that there is such a thing as ‘normal’ (given the vast array of human diversity, this seems a very silly premise to adhere to) and second, it gives us a sense that we can actually somehow get to it (that exalted state of imagined normalcy we once had), if we’re good enough, or if we just work hard enough.

This quickly becomes a pointless mental exercise when one considers the fact that time travel is impossible and every moment you experience is completely new.

Armed with this knowledge, and the knowledge that our memories are flawed, we can happily throw out the old, misinformed idea that recovery is a real possibility (or that we need it), and we can focus instead on something that is much more worth our time and effort: transformation.

Transforming From Broken to Better

Recovering from major depression and recovering from a fractured spinal cord bring to mind two very different scenarios. But what about recovering from PTSD? Or other traumatic events which leave deep imprints on our minds? Alcoholics go through recovery and so do others with addictions that seek to overcome that which is holding them back. When you think about it, it seems like everyone is trying ‘recover’ from something, whether it’s a broken heart or a broken bone.

What do all of these potential problems I’ve mentioned have in common? They all seemingly require recovery, but in every situation I’ve mentioned, there is absolutely no possibility of returning to any sort of previous state of being. The person with a broken spine cannot un-break it any more than a person with clinical depression can magically snap out of it.

But people do get better. Over time a broken spine can heal and through physical therapy, the person may be able to get back to their routine, do everyday things, and may have ‘recovered’ in a sense.

However, nothing is the same as it was before the moment they broke their back. Their physical bone structure will have telltale signs of the break, and they will likely have some mental scars related to the activity that broke their back in the first place. Their muscles will have changed and adapted during the process. Though some things may seem similar, everything will be different.

Literally speaking, we can say that recovery could not possibly have occurred because the person did not return to any state. Instead, they transformed into a totally new state of being.

One that could only have been experienced by virtue of having lived through the events that led up to it.

On Call For Duty

Transformation isn’t some kind of fairy tale mysticism. But if our pumpkins aren’t going to turn into horse-drawn carriages, then how does transformation work? Good question. It’s one I’m not ashamed to admit I’m still figuring out.

In my own personal search for meaning on the path to transformation, I’ve discovered that regardless of our lot in life, it is not just good luck to be happy, but very hard work. Work, mind you, that is undeniably worth the effort. Work that every person is up to the task of doing.

The first thing you need to do to set yourself up for a true transformation (and recover from anything you’re dealing with) is to forget the notion that recovery is going to help you go back and pick up where you left off.

This simply isn’t true, and now you know it. Trying to attain that which has already passed is a painful and fruitless labor that will never help us transform into healthy, more positive, happy people.

My advice is to give up on recovery and instead, focus on the now and all it has to offer.

Real transformation will only happen when you decide to let go of what has hurt you in the past and focus on everything the present has to give you (which is an innumerable list of incredible opportunities).

It is certainly a challenge to live in the now, but it is one that every human being is up to. Survival is built into our DNA through millions of years of evolutionary intelligence. Humans require meaning to live happier lives, and everyone finds that meaning in a different way. That is one of the most stunning things about human diversity: each of us has a completely unique search for meaning driving our individual lives.

Stay focused on the happy moments. Pursue what’s working for you, and don’t waste your attention on what causes you pain. Do the best you can to help yourself (and others), but don’t beat yourself up about mistakes or messiness. Just do the best you can. It’s all anyone can ever ask of you.

Remember that pain is a part of life, and not everything will be rainbows and sunshine, but that doesn’t mean you have to let hard times destroy you. It is your choice what you choose to identify with and let rule your existence.

If you want to, you can focus on transformation and let that rule your existence. It is a much more worthwhile state of being to pursue than anything else I’ve experienced thus far.

Image courtesy of Flickr user chefranden

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