6 Ingredients for Presence
On Monday, I published some closing words on my HERE Year. I was clear that even after spending an entire year thinking about, and exploring, Presence, I had no shiny foolproof answers about how to be perfectly here in my life. But the truth is that I did learn a lot and I feel compelled to share what I learned. Today, I bring you six ingredients for Presence. Note that embracing these things will make us more present. Totally present is a fiction.
In order to be present in our lives, we must allow ourselves to feel the good and the bad and all that comes in between. We must pay attention to our senses. Literally and metaphorically, what are we seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting?
Life includes fear. Fear for ourselves and for those we love. Fear about the future. Fear is not always pleasant and not always present (thank goodness) and we should not let it dominate, but acknowledging that we are sometimes fearful, letting ourselves feel (see above) fear is a huge step toward being present. If we are truly present in a moment, we will notice that it is occasionally (if not often) edged in fear.
I love this one. To be present in our lives, we must be free from and free to. Free from those things that distract us most or numb us most. For me (and for many of us, I imagine), the biggest threats to my attention and awareness are alcohol and technology. Both drinking and social media can and do anesthetize me, keep me from feeling my fear and other good things to. (As Brene Brown so sagely puts it, “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”) But also: We must be free to do the things that help us connect with our love and our lives. For me, I am most present when I am free to exercise and read and write. Doing these things plugs me into the moment.
I've noticed that I often feel most present in moments when I am having fun. The other night, our three little girls had a dance party before bed. They dimmed the lights in the kitchen and turned on fun pop music and danced and sang and twirled. Even though it was bedtime, we indulged them. I even got down with them, belting out "Let It Go" and waltzing with a stuffed bunny. We must snag and savor these moments of fun even if they don't come every day.
Like everything else in life, being present takes focus. We must think about it some, and expend effort. The fact that I spent an entire year thinking about it is certainly an extreme, but we must inhabit our lives and think concrete thoughts: I will make an effort to be more present for my kids and my coworkers today. I will shut off my phone during these hours. I will notice ten details on my walk to work. Interestingly, photography has proven a wonderful (and fun!) way for me to focus on the abundant (though oft-elusive) beauty in my life. I said this recently to a dear friend, but taking photos of moments and memorializing them has made me far happier and more present. Hence, my robust and unapologetic Instagram habit.
Oh, such a biggie. As with everything we set out to be and do, we must forgive ourselves when we perceive ourselves as falling short. Presence isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. There will be hours and days when we feel exquisitely grounded in our lives and there will be hours and days when we feel utterly distracted and woefully distant. This is part of it. We must own the fact that we are human and fallible and that we will stumble at times, even when it comes to things we feel very passionate about.