On being present


Since listening to Brooke McAlary’s interview with Justin Coulson on The Slow Home podcast a few weeks ago, I have been thinking a great deal about what it means to be present. That is, really paying attention in the present moment, being fully available to listen and to take in what’s happening right now.

What does it really mean to live ‘in the moment’ or ‘be present’? And what difference could it make to our lives?

The modern world

I work on a vibrant University campus whose surroundings include stunning sculptures, trees currently laden with blossom, borders packed with colourful spring flowers and walkways overlaid with wisteria that I can observe right outside my window.

Yet, when I head across campus for my journey home, what do I see? You guessed it. I see people with their heads down, scrolling on their smartphones (often while walking) . So, while they may be physically present, these folks are mentally somewhere else. I’m sure this will chime with you, too, wherever you live and work.

At home

Parents of pre-teens and teens will recognise the lure of tablet, smart phone or any other digital device. Even tots who aren’t yet speaking will reach over if they spot an iPhone in your back pocket.

The issue here? Apps, games and social media (in particular) become the thief of conversation. We’ve all done it. It’s so easy to be together physically but not to be present with one another.

When alone

Even though I gave up my smart phone almost a year ago, the radio (and, increasingly, podcasts) do form the backdrop to my life at home. For others, music or TV may be ever-present in the background. It’s so easy – and automatic – to get home, put the radio on and go about your business. But what if we switched off, just for a while? What difference would it make?

Some time ago, I wrote about the benefits of switching off and I do believe this is true. Without some quiet time, we fail to give ourselves thinking time or a chance to reflect or let our butterfly brain do a bit of problem-solving.

With others

We owe it to our kids (and ourselves) to switch off/put down/power off when we have the chance to be together. Our children needs to know that we are truly interested in them (no matter how old they are). Our whole-hearted attention gives them a sense of security and helps in their development, as we encourage them to articulate their thoughts and feelings. If they can’t express themselves to us, then who else can they turn to?

With our ‘significant other’, it’s our job to ask questions, to take the time to listen, to really look them in the eye and let them know we’re 110% present. It’s easy to be busy all the time (and I’m the one always folding the washing, whilst drinking tea, whilst catching up…).

Even, I am reminded by my lovely husband, we need to give a bit of attention to the dog! We will both benefit, if we do.

At work (and I wrote here about minimalism and the workplace), it’s easy to be distracted with the ping of the next email, a tap at the door, the phone ringing or myriad conflicting priorities. So, I’m working on staying focussed, remembering to ask, “What’s essential right now?” so that I can make what Greg McKeown* calls the “highest possible contribution”.

What difference does it make?

Mo Gawdat, discussing his book, Solve for Happy, reminds us that we only have the present. Right now. This moment. So, it’s our job to kick regrets from the past (or worry about the future) into the long grass. We only have the present, so we might as well take notice.

So, join me. Let’s be present.

Being present is a the best gift we can give to ourselves and to others. I’m working on this right here and now.

From *Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less


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