Living life in the here and now is more important than we think. Stop fearing what you are missing, get off your devices and get some PRESENCE.
I have known many great troubles, but most have never happened. Mark Twain
Regardless of who we are, what we do for a living, or if we stay at home managing the craziness, we often live life in the woulda, shoulda, coulda mindset. I work with people in the last years of their lives and regularly receive all kinds of unsolicited life advice. A general theme tends to permeate throughout all the voices and faces I have had the ability to get to know. Spend quality time with family and friends. Not a single one of us plans to ignore our friends, kids, or parents. Our days are full of doing if regardless of if you have kids or not, manage a home, work, or are retired. I see people who are busy with ‘tasks’ irrespective of their age.
If you are reading these words, are you thinking about what you are reading, or have you wandered off to a task you need to get done? If so, you are not alone. In an article in Science magazine, a study found that our minds wander about 50% of our day, and when we allow our minds to wander, we are less happy. We easily enter the catastrophic mind space where the worst-case scenario is the only scenario. Sure there are happy daydreams, but those are not as common as hell in a handbasket daydreams. Charles Schultz once said, “in life, we are given a ten-speed bike. Most of us have gears we never use.” We frequently miss on what’s happening right now as the nonstop thoughts keep us out of the present moment. The gear that everyone wishes they used at the end of their lives was the first one that we all tend to bypass in favor of the middle gear and high gears to get ahead. So how do we spend more time in the here and now? Presence.
What is interesting about Presence is that I can be in the same room as someone with awesome boots but they might be mentally far away. The Presence I am talking about is letting your mind be where your body actually exists more often than we do right now. Phones, tablets and computers make it much easier for us to ignore the here and now in favor of mindless wandering from one site to the next. The result is that you are generally not happy once you snap back to reality as you face all of your to do list once again. We can’t always be focused, but we can be mindful about bringing our thoughts back to the here and now. Presence can be interchangeable with mindfulness, a term that we hear more and more often. Jon Cabot-Zinn describes mindfulness as “…living on purpose in the moment as if your life depends on it.”
Presence or mindfulness is a state that allows you to pay attention to what is happening right now. That doesn’t mean you block out the bad to stay in the present. It means that you view the information in a manner that allows you to think about it before you go down the spiral of the worst-case scenarios. It means taking a step back to wonder if this is really a bad day or just a bad 5 minutes. When you take that mental step back you are using a different part of your brain to override your emotional centers. In a movie back in the Adam Sandler days called “Waterboy” the main character Bobby was in a class where his teacher stated that alligators were mean and aggressive because they have a large amygdala. Of course, Bobby (Adam Sandler) states that his mama said it was because they “Had all them teeth and no toothbrush.” How does this relate? Well, we have an amygdala too. You can choose to live in a state where your amygdala/your emotions can control you like an alligator, or you can use the part of the brain that allows you to take a step back.
Mentally stepping back allows us to be with the people who are important to us when we are on the phone or in-person with them. Often many of us have FOMO-fear of missing out on a social gathering or events they aren’t able to attend. However, we need to be concerned about MOON-missing out on now by our lack of ability to listen to our spouse instead of scrolling through Facebook when they get home. People can tell when you are not there mentally, or at least my husband can tell when I am doing something else while talking to him even on the phone. It is challenging to stay focused on the here and now unless we have done the hard work of helping our brain to stay present. Will we always succeed? Nope. But the goal is to have little successes which will turn into big wins in the future. Living a life with Presence will help us to slow down outside of the day to day grind and be with our friends and family body and soul.
Action Steps: Leave your phone in another room and start your day quietly making breakfast. As you open up your bag of tea or coffee, smell it and listen to the sound of the water boiling or the coffee beans grinding. The goal is to quiet the mind wandering we are prone to and keep us in the here and now for just a few minutes at the start of each day. Want more suggestions? Check out next week.
Looking Ahead: Next week we will look at specific mindfulness practices to help you find that one that might be easiest for you to help you quiet down and get some Presence.