The Present of Presence
It’s that time of year again, holiday madness. We invite you to slow down and focus on the present moment instead of the to-do lists, obligatory gatherings, shopping and cooking. Give yourself a present of presence this year.
Do you give yourself a gift during the holidays? I have for about the last 20 years. It started once I moved out of my martyr stage. You know, the one where mom is always last. Which of course spilled over into I’m always last, even once the kids were grown and had families of their own. For so many years, I truly believed that to be a good mother and a good wife, I was supposed to put everyone else’s needs ahead of mine. And I carried that same belief into my work for those decades, too.
Which meant for those many years, my kids, spouse, employer, extended family, friends, and heck, anyone else within my proximity came ahead of me. And that really meant there wasn’t much, if anything, left for me. My belief system said that if I did something for myself, I was being selfish. Unfortunately, wherever that belief system came from, it left out the parts about being cranky, exhausted, frequently sick, and feeling pretty frustrated on a regular basis with life in general. I had never heard that I needed to take care of myself first so that I could be of better service to my children, spouse, employer and anyone else who wanted to get in line. Thankfully, I did learn it, eventually. Lo and behold, I stopped being cranky, exhausted and frustrated. I stopped getting sick. And I became better at giving to others, at taking care of them in healthier ways, and most importantly, understanding and giving the gift of presence.
I shudder to think what my experiences with my grandchildren would have been if I hadn’t learned that lesson. When they visited, I didn’t try to get anything else done. They had my undivided attention. Until they got sick of me and wanted to play a video game. But that’s normal and their choice. I could then turn my attention elsewhere, but they knew that most of the time, if they wanted my attention, they had it. If they wanted to tell me a long, rambling story, I was attentive. I listened. If I was tired or really needed to do something else, I let them know and I took care of what I needed to take care of. But I had a track record, so they knew I would get back to them and give them my full attention when I did.
Since giving myself the gift of presence, when I meet friends for dinner, it’s almost embarrassing. Almost. Our dinners aren’t an hour or so. We frequently shut the place down 5 hours later because we have rich discussions where we are truly present and listening to each other. Being present in a conversation means you hear every nuance, you’re filled with more questions because of subtle cues, you’re excited or sad or laughing hysterically because you’re in the moment with that other person. The funniest thing to me is that we’ve never had a restaurant employee ask us to leave or give us the stink eye or received any kind of pressure to hurry things along. I think it’s because our energy is contagious and they either find it amusing or cheerful, or maybe it’s just interesting or a novelty to see people deeply conversing versus looking down at their devices.
Presence is a foundational element of mindfulness. Being present means really being in the here and now. Not worrying about what happened this morning or yesterday or last month or 3 years ago. Not trying to guess what’s about to happen, what may happen, what could happen. The past is over and there’s no changing it. The future hasn’t happened yet, and there’s no accurate prediction of it. So stay in the moment. Notice what’s around you. Observe the people, the environment, the sounds, the smells, the climate, your body, your breath – everything. In every moment.
Way back in the 1950’s, the famous American psychologist Abraham Maslow said, “The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” He wasn’t referring to Buddhism or mantras on a mountainside or a hot yoga session. Although each of these can bring you into the present moment. He understood that constantly diverting our attention and energy to the past or the future makes us sick. Being present makes us well.
Real life is only here in the present moment. The past is a memory. The future is a dream. Most people think of now as a stepping off point for the next thing. If we stop for this moment and observe or enjoy whatever we’re experiencing, we’ll still move onto the next thing, as this moment moves into a memory. Life happens fast! But this moment, when fully lived, leads to a richer experience, as well as more opportunities for more of whatever you want because you’re here, now, paying attention.
You can choose to be well now. You can choose to be happy now. You can choose to be attentive now. Once you make that shift, you’ll understand the enormous benefits. Realistically, you probably can’t jump straight into now because you’ve conditioned your mind to be on constant alert to what’s next, or to fret over something that already happened. I confess I had a hard time with it at first, too.
I heard Robert Holden in a video talk about how he had a special watch made for him that replaced each of the numbers on the dial with the word now, so his watch consisted of 12 nows instead of numbers. Back when I made this shift, I simply bought an inexpensive man’s watch so it would have a bigger face and wrote “NOW” in capital letters with a marker across the watch face. Every time I looked at my watch, I was reminded to be present. Once I got in the habit, I stopped wearing watches altogether. It doesn’t matter what time it is, only that the time is now. You no doubt have plenty of notifications that ring or ding to tell you that you need to be at a meeting or somewhere else, so focusing on the now in between won’t you’re your schedule. Since a lot of people skip watches now due to smart phones, you could simply make your background on your phone the word NOW.
Another trick I used was writing down these two questions and posting them in various places around my house and on the sun visor in the car. “What are you thinking?” And, “How are you feeling?” I had no idea that as I raced through my days, I was never paying attention to my thoughts or feelings. It would all hit me at day’s end, when I felt stressed and tired and then I would notice I didn’t feel so hot. Those notes would stop me in my tracks and bring me straight into the moment, multiple times a day. And that shifted my habits and behavior to something much, much healthier.
Of course there are many great books, videos and teachers you can learn from. Eckhart Tolle is probably the most profound author on the subject of now and I’ll drop a link to his book, The Power of Now, in the show notes. And of course, practicing mindfulness, which is centered on being present with your mind, body and environment, greatly strengthens your ability to stay present. You can also practice mindfulness meditation, which brings you to the present by focusing on your breath. It doesn’t matter how you get here, to the now. It only matters that you start the journey of shifting your mind to pay attention to the present moment.
Let the past go. Focus on now and the future takes care of itself. Life is actually so much simpler when you live it moment by moment. On the days when I do it well, it is amazing! On the days I don’t do it so well – keep in mind we’re human and this is not an easy shift – I shake it off and set an intention for the next day to do it better.
As the holiday season begins, it’s an excellent time to consider being in the moment because there are so many distractions all around. I had begun to dread the holidays before my present of presence because it increasingly felt like more work added to my over-loaded plate every year. I would start getting anxious in October, on top of berating myself for already running late because I “should” have started in September, and the lists would begin. The cleaning, meal-planning, shopping in crowded malls, cooking, cleaning again, and switching out decorations from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas. I thought my purpose was to make sure that everyone else had a perfect experience and ignored my feelings of fatigue and frustration over trying to cram all of this extra activity into my already full schedule. Then there were the obligatory holiday get-togethers, usually work-related and usually where I did not want to be. I always felt a huge relief on January 2nd, knowing that I had almost a year before I had to do it all over again.
My holidays changed drastically once I moved into the present moment and I began to enjoy them again. Sometimes decorations go up, sometimes not. I still cook, but that’s because I enjoy cooking. I accept help for cleaning, every time now. Shopping has largely been replaced with experiences – doing something fun with my grandkids for example instead of giving them a gift that will end up obsolete before the new year. Thanksgiving has become the most important holiday for me, spending time with family and feeling gratitude. I choose to spend a quiet day at home on Christmas day now and celebrate the new year from my living room, safe, warm and snug. They are holidays which means a day off. What a reversal.
So back to giving myself a gift. Shopping is not my favorite pastime, so since I’m already shopping for others, although much less than in the past, I buy myself something nice or special while I’m searching merchandise. It’s a way to honor myself and to say thank you to me for all of my hard work. And it’s always something I really, really want. I’ve never once had to exchange a gift I give myself! During the entire year, however, I try to remember to give myself the gift of presence every day. It enriches my relationships, strengthens my empathy, makes life much more vibrant, reduces my stress levels and brings me joy. Consider giving yourself a gift this year. You can start with the gift of presence if you want the best gift you’ll ever receive or give in your life. And go ahead and throw in a little bling or something else you’d like. You’ll appreciate it more by staying in the present moment.
This podcast is part of the Airwave Media podcast network. Visit AirwaveMedia.com to listen and subscribe to other great shows like The Daily Meditation Podcast, Everything Everywhere and Movie Therapy. We’d deeply appreciate your support at patreon.com/amindfulmoment. Our podcast is now available to view on our YouTube Channel, so be sure to follow us there and on Instagram @amindfulmomentpodcast. Visit our website, amindfulmoment.com to access podcasts, scripts and book recommendations.
A Mindful Moment is written and hosted by Teresa McKee and/or Melissa Sims. The Spanish version is translated and hosted by Paola Theil. Intro music, Retreat, by Jason Farnham. Outro music, Morning Stroll by Josh Kirsch, Media Right Productions. Thank you for tuning in! This podcast is produced by Work2Live Productions.