It starts NOW

I have been reading the book, ‘The power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle, and a question in the Zen tradition is quoted, “if not now, when?’ I sat with this question for a few days, thoughts and emotions running around like excited children on a scavenger hunt. Initially, I was trying to make sense of what this statement meant, which is my habitual position; rationally understanding anything that triggers a familiar unease. Once I became aware of it, I let that statement find its path and place within my body, mind, and soul and surrendered to the silence and noise it provoked.
During this process, I asked a friend going through a challenging personal situation how he was doing. And his response was ‘fine’ with a heart-warming smile. It made me wonder how he can smile when I know he is in pain. Why, when he asks me the same question, my eyes tear up, and blinding pain fills every cell of my body and my response every time is that I am not fine. I am in pain. I am suffering.
His response suddenly that day brought an involuntary smile to my face. I could see that he believed it when he said he was fine, and a moment of awareness dawned on me.
If I don’t stop suffering now, then when will it end? Yes, I have known pain all my life in one way or another, and I continue to experience it in one way or another. Physical pain is experienced in illnesses, bruises, cuts, etc. There is emotional pain experienced by the trauma of one kind or another. There is frustration and a sense of suffering shared at a collective level instigated by the world around with economic crisis, viruses, and unrest. But if I don’t stop creating pain or suffering now, when will I?
Some of you wonder why anyone would create pain for themselves. No one likes to experience pain, do they? Why would we deliberately suffer? I believe that our attachments to our past traumas and our fear and anxious anticipation of the future keep us trapped in a place of pain and suffering. I can speak for myself about how for years until now, I felt pain around me like a thick fuzzy blanket keeping every inch of my body warm and comfortable. It became a home for me, and so many memories of the past, some from the present, and a relentless hope and fear that someone could ever take that pain away kept me a hostage of my own created world. Again, you might ask, why would I create it? Yes, I have had real experiences that caused deep hurt and still show up like uninvited guests but is that all my life has been? Have there not been many joyous moments like when I jumped in the sea for the first time, and an unexplained exuberant feeling filled me? Why am I not attached to those moments of pure gratitude and happiness I have experienced? Why am I addicted to pain only?
I used to justify that it’s because I still have painful experiences, but I also realised that I have identified with the painful body-mind part of me. It dominated and coloured my attitude toward the world. It almost felt like Stockholm syndrome, where I was a hostage and attached to the pain. It became my go-to place any time I was triggered.
Live in this moment and be a silent watcher of yourself as you breathe in and out. You are alive, and what can be more amazing than that? Don’t look back at the roads you have travelled and stop fearing the path ahead. Feel your feet on the ground and be aware of where you are now. If you are hurting, feel your pain as a powerful emotion without building the walls of the narrative around it. Let go. If not now, when?

The writer is a BACP (British Association For Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited individual and couple psychotherapist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at or her official website.

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