The radio was blasting the latest Martina McBride song “I love you,” and my five-year-old daughter and I are belting out the words with so much emotion we can’t help but giggle when we miss a word. It was the summer of 1999 with lots of change and adjustments. We had a new baby, my parents had just left the country on a mission, and my oldest daughter was getting ready to start kindergarten. We were learning how to find balance again.
In those moments of pure bliss as my daughter and I connected with a song we both loved, I was present in her life. She is now an adult and helped bring new meaning to this connection with a recent text message:
Mom, I was just listening to Pandora when the song “I Love You” by Martina McBride came on. I started remembering all the times we would rock out in the car together when I was little.
On my birthday you started playing the song during my party. I remember looking up all excited and making eye contact with you. For some reason I just felt so much love from you, it was one time I knew you loved me. It made me happy to remember and thought I would share.”
Texts like this just make my day!
As I’ve thought about these memories, I’ve contemplated what made them have such a strong association for my daughter. The times when we connect with others when we are actively engaged, or “present” can have a profound impact.
Yearning to Be Present
We all realize how important it is to be present in our most important relationships, yet it seems to be the ever-elusive state of being for most people. Being present is woven into our new year’s resolutions. We search for answers amid the abundance of articles and blog posts about mindfulness and intentional living. There is a yearning among us common folk to be more present amidst all of the various demands in our lives.
It is as if we have an unquenchable thirst for real connection and engagement, but achieving it seems just beyond our grasp. Or maybe it’s just me. As I’ve aged and my family has grown into be adults, I have drifted further from the ideal than towards it.
I’ve identified three obstacles that contribute to my lack of presence. Recognizing them has been the first step in learning to practice being present. Yours may be similar, or they might be entirely different, but taking the time to analyze what triggers keep you from connecting in the way you want is a step in correcting the problem.
Lost in our thoughts
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been driving down the road and suddenly realize I’ve lost all consciousness about the last few miles. My autopilot kicks in as something triggers a thought, and I’m quickly swept away in a task I need to remember, or a person I need to call. Before I know it I’ve missed the last 5 minutes.
Ask my family, they will attest – I’m notorious for drifting out of a conversation. They’ll ask a question, and I’m physically there, but mentally I’ve missed it all. I remember reading the book Still Alice and wondering if Alzheimer’s had started to set in.
The reality is if I don’t consciously think about being present, my natural tendency is to get lost in my thoughts.
Make the Inconvenient Convenient
We live in a world of convenience. We are understandably drawn to things that are easier to accomplish, but often the easiest or most convenient is not the best.
Many of the requests made by those we love are rarely ever convenient. Our mind makes things inconvenient when we forget our priorities, and allow the daily grind to cloud our perspective. What we value most requires our hard work and commitment.
Don’t fall into the trap of making your relationships seem inconvenient. Practice the mind shift of putting first things first. Stop to evaluate the task and stick with your defined priorities. Try to practice consciously making the inconvenient convenient.
Digital distractions like social media or the internet have their time and place. We all have emails and texts needing to be returned, and our dependence on the internet in this digital age is very real. I’ve had to be very mindful of blocking out time specifically for those types of tasks.
Also, I’ve had to be sure to not confuse digital time as a time to connect. Brenè Brown sees this confusion as a concern in our society:
“Technology … has become a kind of imposter for connection, making us believe we’re connected when we’re really not—at least not in the ways we need to be. In our technology-crazed world, we’ve confused being communicative with feeling connected. Just because we’re plugged in, doesn’t mean we feel seen and heard.” -Brené Brown
We’ve all had the experience where we walk into a room to see a group of people with their heads down and faces lit by the glow of their screens. It sometimes feels uncomfortable to converse face to face, yet this is what we need.
To make sure I’m not interrupted or distracted I’m better off when I shut down the computer and turn off my phone so I can be completely present.
Once you identify your obstacles, you can look at how your mind handles them. Recognize your triggers and mentally take note. The more aware we become of our triggers, the better able we are to redirect them. As with any new skill, the more you practice being present, the better you get.
Becoming present is more of a state of being than another thing on your to-do list. There will always be external forces working to distract us, but if we can teach our brain how to handle those distractions we will find ourselves more engaged in the here and now.
What are the obstacles keeping you from being present?