During my years of teaching high school, I practiced being fully present with my students so they knew they were heard and respected. As a wife I have worked to be fully present with my husband when we need to process what is happening in our shared life, and as a mother I did the same with our two children. At one point I came to the realization that it was easy for me to be fully present with others but harder for me to be fully present with myself. Once I understood that I couldn’t give what I hadn’t taken in, I began to practice being more fully present with myself.
Being present means creating awareness by paying attention to what is going on in our life: from the big events to small daily details. Since life is full of change, being willing to be flexible is essential as we continue to pay attention to each change. Being fully present creates a feeling of unity as mind, body, and spirit work in harmony. When we’re truly present with our self, we learn about who we are more deeply with every life experience. If we intentionally focus on this moment, our mindfulness will help us go beneath the surface of what is happening to the truth of what is happening. Without presence we miss this.
Since we’re surrounded by so much distraction and change, what can we do to keep ourselves living fully present? We can start by listening to our bodies. When we stop listening to what other people are saying and focus on what our body is saying, we can hear its wisdom. It might tell us to go outside for a walk, stay in bed and sleep in, see a doctor, take a hot bath, have a salad for lunch, meet a friend, or eat some chocolate (one of my favorite messages). The more we listen, the more present we become, until living in the moment becomes habit.
Another suggestion is listening to our feelings without analyzing or judging them. If we notice what comes up we will discover what is getting in our way of being fully present with our life. If we feel anger, disappointment, fear, resentment, or worry, it is a message that we’re either hanging on to yesterday or projecting into the future. By experiencing those feelings and letting them go, we can move into a peaceful now, which is life enhancing. This is what presence is all about. In James Thurber’s words, “Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.” This is an invitation to come home to our inner present self.
Learning to live without all the answers is easier said than done, but it, too, is a doorway to being more present. Wanting answers creates worries that lead to self-criticism and self-doubt about how we’re going to handle certain situations. With courage and practice we can learn to surrender to knowing nothing, which makes us teachable. When we surrender to the guidance of our Higher Power, we no longer need to strain to find the answers because they will come without effort.
We become more present when we celebrate small joys. It’s much easier to be present when we’re completely focused on watching a bird build its nest, an orchid bud open, clouds changing shapes, or unexpectedly seeing a friend. Recently I was sent a gorgeous bouquet of flowers that were all in the bud stage. I am now relishing the pleasure of watching them slowly open. Every time I check on the flowers I am completely in the moment with their scent, beauty, and serenity. Quiet meditation and yoga help keep us centered and aid in presence practice. It takes energy, patience, and dedication to make presence a priority.
Being fully present requires taking a break from the digital world. Necessary as that world is, it is full of distractions, and if we aren’t paying attention, hours of our day are gone. Let’s try eating lunch away from our computers, taking a walk without our phones, and listening to the sounds of nature without buds in our ears. A quiet mind is the doorway to presence.
Planning is important, but so is flowing, which means balance is needed. Lists are something I’m good at making and following, but if I become rigid I miss the beauty of spontaneity. Being flexible allows us the opportunity to go with the flow, which always turns out much better than what I had planned. If we fight change by clinging to what we know, we miss out on the new opportunities change brings. In Eckhart Tolle’s words, “Some changes seem negative at first glance, but they create the space for something new to arrive.” There’s a gift of new energy and perspective in the unexpected. This is an opportunity to embrace what it has to offer, which is living fully present.
As with any learning, this takes practice. The old adage, “Where attention goes, energy flows” is true, and we’ll be amazed at what will change when we change our focus. We will move from victim to victor. One example is the guidance to stay home to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Staying home can be seen as a prison or as a personal retreat – it’s all a matter of attitude and attention. Learning to live in the present is a life-changing journey that is empowering as we discover our own inner strength and resilience. Let’s take Tolle’s advice, “Remember that the present is all you have. Make the ‘now’ the center of your life.”
Until Next Time – Sylvia