Early in therapy, I introduce almost of my clients to mindfulness through the Pearl Jam song ‘Present Tense.’ Many of the younger clients say they do not know Pearl Jam, which is unfortunate because I remember being a sophomore at Millersville University and going to the record store at midnight to get a copy of the album, "No Code." But I digress. Needless to say, I have heard this particular song more times than I can count. Last week I played it for a new client as an introduction to mindfulness. Typically I have fleeting negative mind reads that the new client is going to think I’m one of those hippy psychologists, this technique is boring, or that my taste in music stinks. With this particular client it was different. I really lost myself for the duration of the song. Accordingly, for the first time, I interpreted a part of the song accurately. The lines go:
Have you ideas on how this life ends?
Checked your hands and studied the lines.
Have you the belief that the road ahead ascends off into the light.
Now I realize that "checked your hands and studied the lines" refers to what a palm reader does to shed light on your unknown fate. Previously I thought this line was talking about the wrinkles we accumulate with age. But this moment of clarity allowed me to recognize that Eddie Vedder is explaining how our thoughts can drift to the future, which prevents us from being present in the moment. This new interpretation makes the song more relevant in therapy because it shows how a mind wandering to the future can exacerbate stress leading to increased anxiety.
I was able to have this moment of clarity, intense focus, and ultimately ‘see’ something that was once hidden because the impact my client had on me. She is cheerful, open-minded, engaging, and nonjudgmental. Her disposition put my mind at a state of ease that allowed me to see something that had been hidden in plain sight for quite some time. Her personality allowed me to remain undistracted by the all too common negative mind reads and judgments. Most of the time we are very aware of the small details of others’ personalities/tendencies and the impact these details have on us. Some common examples can include: her bossiness pisses me off, her willingness to handle things is relieving, his inappropriate comments make me uncomfortable, his energy is contagious… Over the next week turn the lens around and pay attention to the details of your personality and how they might impact others, both the good and the bad. Pay attention to whether your interactions with others tend to result in strong, meaningful connections or do you regularly feel disconnected. Either way it has a lot to do with what you bring to the interaction. You play the most consistent and strongest role in the outcome of your interpersonal interactions.
Here is a live version of this song from a Philly show.