Tangier Island sits within the lower Chesapeake Bay. It’s one of the last few remaining inhabited islands on the Bay at this time. In earlier periods of history, harsh winters brought prolonged isolation and deprivation to Tangier when waters surrounding the island froze solidly up to its shores. Persistent ice blockages prevented the provisioning of goods and supplies by regular boat deliveries from the Eastern and Western shores of the Bay until sufficient melting occurred. Today, the island is served by air transportation via a short runway residing on one side of Tangier, meaning that frozen seas no longer lock the island in. But Tangier stands frozen in the proud, persistent grounding of a past marked by generations of watermen, their families, and their unique dialect. This historically resilient way of life is rapidly fading, though. Tangier Island’s population is shrinking, as rising sea levels, frequent storms, and the grinding erosive action of ice slowly, but surely, overtake the island. Within the current century, the island is likely to be gone. It will be claimed by the sea. Leaving us only a time-bound, iconic relic to the past and what once was.
In our world today, many of us feel buffeted and battered as iced-in ‘islands’, as well. We’re overwhelmed by the literal sea change of technology in our lives. We feel more alone and alienated than ever before. Some feel threatened by enemies both real and imagined. For example, at this very moment in time, the U.S. government is enmeshed and frozen in an ugly shutdown standoff. We’re held hostage to a border wall fight that has very little to do with legitimate issues of appropriate border security. For, in truth, it goes far deeper than this. It’s really about the impacts of our own ginned-up fear, stoked by rampant misinformation and a manufactured crisis. It’s about trying to somehow ‘protect’ us from outside forces, ethnicities, and cultures that we’ve conveniently demonized. And at its sad core, it’s about a small minority of fearful people desperately trying to preserve a past, Anglo-centric, white, male-dominated, and traditional Christian focused way of life (to the exclusion of all other alternatives). About hanging on ever-tightly to what once ‘was’, not what now ‘is’. It’s akin to spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build a seawall around Tangier Island. It won’t work. For the reality of life on Tangier is living with the sea. The reality of the U.S., on the other hand, is living in loving, inclusive, and welcoming ways with a multi-cultural and pluralistic population in a changing and increasingly global community.
But at the moment, many of us are still frozen in time. We’re stuck. We crave what was once good about the past for some, while conveniently forgetting the sometimes ugly aspects of what was. At the same time, we fear the future. We wonder how we’ll ever make sense of the things that we can’t currently comprehend. In human, spiritual terms, we’re neither really ‘present’ nor ‘in the moment’. For staying present doesn’t mean holding tightly and desperately onto the status quo. It’s not seeking the illusion of homeostasis. It’s not clinging to what feels safe. It’s not about preservation or our own comfort or even our longevity. It’s not about building a foxhole to hide in. Or a wall to keep all those perceived ‘scary’ things out of our lives. And it’s certainly not about surrendering to fear mongering, chronic tunnel vision, or to the strange, addictive allure of panic. Now to be fair here, we do need to learn from the past. And to plan for the future. But we can’t ‘live’ in either of these places if we’re going to be empowered, spiritually-healthy human beings. Nor can we survive in a fake ‘present’ that is narrowly framed by our thinly-veiled glances back or our fearful anticipation of what might happen some day. To make it out ‘alive’, we must leave the island. We must depart the place that’s frozen in time.
If we’re to leave this ice-bound island, where shall we now live? For all this can feel like a major dislocation. Like a sacred, human loss that we’re starting to grieve. It can seem uncertain and even threatening at times. Like something familiar has been untethered from us. It can honestly feel like we’re left adrift in choppy, ice-filled waters off the coast of our own islands. So what do we actually do? If we’re to survive, we have to first redefine being ‘present’ in our lives. We must de-link actual human presence from chronological time to a degree. As stated previously, we can honor our foundations from the past, where appropriate. We can stay open to the future and it’s many possibilities. For we need not fully disassociate ourselves from our history and our potential in the days ahead. But we cannot be governed by these things in our lives. The way off the frozen, time-bound island begins with us. It begins with our choice for change. It’s sustained through our new ways of thinking. And it thrives in our daily disciplines and practices.
But what’s this mean on a practical level? Well, a more timeless approach to living in the ‘now’ starts with the narratives that we continuously play in our own heads. These narratives are, more often than not for most of us, dysfunctional to varying degrees. They’re driven by our replaying our past mistakes, traumas, disappointments, and fractures. Further, they anticipate the future with our programmed and internal worry, anxiety, drama, and even imagined catastrophe ahead. The ‘tape loop’ of our conversations with ourselves is often negative, self-condemning, fear-fed, and territorial. Our self-talk is frequently driven by outward comparisons to others whom we unfairly or unrealistically envy, crave, desire, or fear. This internal narrative (often unconscious, by the way) can be exceedingly hurtful to our health. It’s limiting. It freezes us. And we somehow inexplicably give ourselves over to it each day.
With that in mind, our way off of the island has to start with managing our own head-bound narratives. We must work hard to disassociate our familiar and strangely comforting, but quite deleterious, self-narratives from the actual, sometimes difficult situations that we face in our lives. We must stop letting our own past and future based self-talk run our lives in some time-frozen prison of our own making. This starts with our carefully, honestly, and curiously listening to ourselves more often. It’s sustained by accepting, without judgment, the reality of our negative internal narratives without welcoming them ‘in’. It thrives by letting these negative narratives flow through and out of us. By not giving them a permanent or comfortable home within us.
We can do other things, as well, to stay present in the here and now. We can learn to ‘quantitatively’ accept the reality of setbacks and loss, while simultaneously honoring what was ‘qualitatively’ good, just, helpful, and beneficial about the past. We can learn from what didn’t work before, what wasn’t just, and what wasn’t sustainable– without throwing the past out as irrelevant. In terms of the future, we can start ‘chunking down’ our lives to what is before us right now. In the parlance of team sports, we can stop looking up at the scoreboard for the time remaining on the clock. We can stop looking at the scores of other teams in our league. Stop focusing on what happens down the road if we either win or lose the game today. Then give our sole attention to the next ‘play’. Then the next play. And the next after that. One at a time. We can also periodically take a deep, collective breath and make the moment ‘smaller’, not larger, in our heads. While so doing, we can get in closer touch with our current feelings. Then ask ourselves whether these feelings are proportionate and appropriate to our actual situation on the ‘field’. Are our feelings realistic or are they actually pre-programmed from our past, negative self-talk? If they’re the latter, we can better manage those feelings if we’re brave enough to take our conscious minds back. And leave the island called ‘Frozen in Time’.
We can do these things if we actively participate in personal, spiritual change. If we embrace lasting, sustained, and healthy change. We can do it if we let go of things that are comfortable, but constricting. If we jettison the unfair comparisons that we often make with others– for we are already sacred and more than ‘enough’. And most importantly, if we leave behind the unnecessary, unhealthy shackles of our pasts and futures. Then, and only then, can we live within the realm of what truly ‘is’. In the process, we can find greater peace, wholeness, and meaning in our own present moments. We can and should, of course, do this with appropriate respect for our respective pasts. And with an openness to our respective futures. But we live most fully Present when we’re firmly grounded in Right Now. Ever Unfrozen and Timeless…