This is not a dress rehearsal. Nor is it a rehearsal for the dress rehearsal. This is it.
As someone who has struggled with an anxious mind for most of my life — particularly the “future thinking” subtype — I spend a lot of time planning; I plan what to do if “x” happens, the names of my future children, how to strategically grocery shop for the week, things I want to incorporate into my wedding day, the color palate of my dream home, contingency pain management plans and exactly how I will navigate a gazillion more hypotheticals, ranging from mundane scenarios to life-altering, devastating events.
There is a lot going on up in this noggin, and it’s taken extreme effort for me to gain the awareness and mindfulness skills to be able to observe the thought tornados that rip through my consciousness from a grounded place and with loving eyes. I’m still learning how to hold myself gently while my mind scrambles and whirs and buzzes all over the place; to sit as an observer, and to let it be okay to merely witness the “show” without feeling as if the script is in charge and I have no control.
I clearly remember the first time that I really thought about the cliche, “this is not a dress rehearsal”; I felt smacked in the face by one of those “duh, that’s obvious” but also “holy moly, how have I not been thinking about life like this?!” truths. It was a powerful and memorable moment because I was immediately pulled out of my future-thinking thought spiral and plopped into the present moment — “right here, right now”.
While my brain is busy building plans for the future, I can easily get swept away into a narrative that acts like my life is the dress rehearsal. As if I am planning and practicing for a theoretical end point or show, and if I don’t do it all in the “right” way, that show could go disastrously wrong. This perspective also makes it feel like everyone is watching, everyone is waiting, for the real performance to start.
If you’ve lost me here — then I seriously applaud you for your ability to stay grounded in the present. But if you’re with me — really think about this for a moment…
This is “it”. Everything you have done and everything you are doing is your show. There isn’t anything you need to practice for. You are already in the performance. All you need to do is get up on the stage and dance and sing and twirl and laugh and cry and make the very most of the time you’ve been given to perform in the greatest arena there ever was — the arena that is your life!
For me, this mindset shift has been immensely helpful in pulling myself back to the present over and over again. By doing so, I find myself more often living in what is happening, and not what I wish were happening. Since I began this journey down the path of chronic illness and healing, it’s felt like the “show” part of my life has been on hold, that all of this can’t be my real life; that I should just focus on how I’m going to really live once I am better; that this is just something I have to “get through”. But this right now can be my life, and more importantly — it is. And I don’t want to waste any of it forgetting that.
With even a few hours of distance from my most challenging days — from migraines that have brought me to my knees in tears, to traumatic ER experiences or procedures that I’ve had — I can appreciate these experiences as a part of my show. Although gnarly and unpleasant scenes, they are nonetheless, part of my story. Those moments, days or seasons of extreme pain and anguish are teaching me so much about myself and this world.
In the same way, experiencing deep grief has finally started to present me with lessons that I am ready to see and hear. In the past three years, I’ve lost three people to whom I was extremely close. Each of those losses has felt like a powerful blow; too terrible to be true and impossible to fit into the narrative of my life. I’ve learned the through painful personal experience that there is no guarantee that we will be given the chance to tell those we love the thoughts and feelings that we most want them to hear. That those final words, “I love you”, “thank you for all you’ve done to shape my world and life” or “you’re one of the most important role models I’ve ever had” may go unsaid. I now know if I don’t say what is in my heart in the present moment, and am living life in “dress rehearsal mode”, I may not be given a “final performance” in which to say them again.
One of the deepest shifts I’ve experienced has been waking up to my life, waking up to the fact that I am in the final show. I find it ironic that deep struggle and total surrender are what have led me to this point; to a place where I can choose to see hope when nothing is guaranteed, to see possibilities in the midst of impossible situations. It is in those moments where I become aware of and can appreciate the power of gratitude, mindset, perception and breath; that I am the creator of my reality, and deeply aware with every fiber of my being that I only have one shot at this. And I realize that the more I allow myself to be falsely lulled into dress rehearsal mode, the more I slip away from the fundamental truth that this is it.
So, I continue to use this mantra to ground myself in moments when I get swept away by thought: this is not a dress rehearsal, this is it.
It motivates me to find gratitude and peace for the opportunity to be here, on this stage, even during the worst scenes of the show. It motivates me to speak my truth, even if my voice shakes; to send text messages and handwritten letters to the people I love most, just because. To laugh and dance in moments of low pain and joy like it’s the only chance I’ll ever get to do so — because, it is. To choose to see possibility in the uncertainty that is woven into every moment and every day of our lives. To find ways to connect to the intense gratitude of this precious gift; of being and living and doing and loving and breathing on this earth.
I share each step along my road to wellness and healing and hope that in doing so I can inspire you along your own path. Thank you so much for being here.