The Power of Being Present

You know the feeling.

You’re doing a normal daily activity like eating dinner and all the sudden you look up and wonder where the last five minutes went. Perhaps this even happens inadvertently while you’re driving. It can happen when you’re supposed to be enjoying time with family or even when doing your favorite activity. Its implications are everywhere.

Daydreaming, a wandering mind, whatever you want to call it.

Why does this happen?

You’re not being present.

A Harvard group study done by psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert showed that almost half of our thoughts at any given time are not related to what we are doing.

Simply put, we are often not being present.

So what does it mean to be present?

It means watching the game when you’re watching the game, doing the dishes when you’re doing the dishes, reading a book when you’re reading a book.

Sound simple?

It is. Yet simple doesn’t mean easy.

As humans, we evolved and survived by thinking about the dangers that confront us which often meant thinking ahead and thinking about the future. It’s rooted in us biologically.

So, to turn this focus inward on ourselves and to be more invested in every activity takes effort and discipline.

Where else does lack of presence manifest itself?

It extends past simply not being engaged. It extends towards anticipation. 

Anticipating what you will do when you get home from work, anticipating your next vacation, anticipating what will happen when you get that promotion.

Interestingly it extends to simple daily activities we don’t even think about like the angst of shuffling your songs and never being able to land on a “good” one simply because of the anticipation that the perfect song will come along, forgetting that every song is in your library for a reason and you enjoy it on some level.

It extends, in large part, to a major reason why we have so much obesity and health problems in America, eating is no longer mindful. We are not present with our meals, eating meals has become an activity often done with either haste and/or glutton.

Our natural tendencies when we are dissatisfied in life lean more and more towards lack of mindfulness and lack of presence which may be our unconscious mind telling us that we are taking the wrong direction in life. 

What’s most interesting is that the entirety of the presence dilemma can be traced back to one thing. Desire. A desire for something to be over with or done, desire for a situation to improve, or even desire during good times like the desire for a good feeling or moment to continue on and to last.

Beginning with feeling happy with yourself as you are in your current situation is the best remedy, but as I alluded to, coming into contact with your emotions and desires may lead to the uncomfortable realization that you need a change.

Just remember that though sometimes we tend to think that happiness is just one promotion, one vacation, one fixed relationship, or one little tweak away, this is never the case.

Speaking of desire, when it comes to this topic I am reminded of a piece of the movie Harry Potter.

This is not a result of my own thoughts, for I myself have not seen any of the movies or read any of the books, but I am reminded of a conversation with a friend about the Mirror of Erised.

The mirror is known to show “the most desperate desire of a person’s heart” (Its name, Erised, is Desire spelled backward). Dumbledore tells Harry “The happiest man on Earth would look into the mirror and see only himself, exactly as he is.” Harry becomes obsessed with the mirror as he can palpably see his family in it. Upon finding out, Dumbledore says “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”

Faced with the desire to be with his family, Harry becomes disconnected with his current mission and purpose as we so often do in the paradigm of desire and want.

So, I’ve been a little sporadic so far. You relate to these problems, but are unsure how to approach them.

Let me continue by giving you one simple step to become more present in your daily activities

Embracing meditation as a daily practice is a great start.

You may think meditation is a goofy or antiquated practice, or something uniquely eastern, but its roots and its purpose are pure, and its benefits tangible.

It teaches us to be present and tame desire, which, as I’ve stated, is the root of unhappiness.

It teaches us to become more comfortable with our emotions by realizing that they do not define us and are simply thoughts we are having.

It is also a great way to reflect on your path and what you really want out of life, as when you quiet the outside influences that are constantly present in our world you will be able to hear your inner voice again.

The cause of our angst is often not just due to internal sources but the complexities of the world.

Specifically, I point to technology, especially, our phones, as another culprit.

Having your phone, a device that can bring you any information instantaneously is not always a good thing. 

Just knowing it’s there constantly tugging at your willpower, creates a lack of cognitive alertness to what you’re doing.

How often do you find yourself looking at your phone whenever you can? During a quick bathroom break, while waiting in line at the grocery store, at a red light?

Phones can take away from experiences we genuinely enjoy as well, I know that I myself am often frustrated by being distracted while watching tv or a movie when I realize I’ve missed a large part while being on my phone.

I have researched and found on my own many ways to cope with phone anxiety and I have come up with-

5 Tips to Help Ease Cell Phone Driven Anxiety:

  1. Disable most notifications. Notifications are a huge distraction that offers little return. It is not necessary to know the things they tell us and they distract from living in the real world.
  2. When possible, do not carry your phone on your person. Having your phone in your pocket makes it all the more tempting to overuse it and check it. Put it away from you, and if you can in a separate room.
  3. Don’t be on your phone right before bed or right upon waking. This is a much more anxiety-free way to start and end your day and you will notice the difference in your mood. And, yes, this does mean you’ll probably have to get a real alarm clock. I promise they still exist.
  4. Don’t allow your phone into your bedroom. Have at least one phone free space. Often our bedrooms are our most personal and intimate space so they work well, especially because this will help you align with tip #3.
  5. Set time limits. Set limits on overall usage as well as singular usage. It is hard to come to terms with just how much we overuse our phones but this knowledge is power and will help us overcome our angst and improve.

So there it is, presence, a simple yet increasingly difficult concept to master. It is my hope that these thoughts and tips can help you become mindful, present, and at ease with your inner self.

Interesting video from Dan Harris, author of ‘Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics’ and creator of the ‘Ten Percent Happier’ App

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