How I Learned To Be Present
I used to move too quickly. I didn’t pay attention to what was around me. Mainly to things just outside the scope of my life. I didn’t stare at nature. Or intentionally breathe crisp air. I didn’t appreciate my other senses as much as I should have. I was never present.
Technology made it even easier for me to disengage from my surroundings. Too many of us have our heads down looking at our phones. Or we are just idle on the path of our narrow life. It’s what I used to do. I was ignoring everything in front of me. I was never present.
Don’t you sometimes just want to be fully present in a moment?
How I Learned To Be Present
I slowed the f*ck down.
Actually, I am a slow mover in real life. Like I actually move slowly, methodically. But I was rushing through life. Going from here to there. Working long hours. I blinked and my kids were 5. Then 10. Now 15 and 17. I needed to be present.
It’s not that I wasn’t there. I was there. But I was distracted. Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes because I get uncomfortable a lot. Sometimes because I didn’t know how to be truly present in a moment. Sometimes because of work. But I stopped. All of it.
I am a calm person on the outside. I never even raise my voice. But often times my brain was a clusterf*ck of mental activity and random thoughts while just trying to enjoy an ice cream with my kids. And if I wasn’t present, I wasn’t enjoying the moments as much as I could.
So I learned to focus. And the way I did this was to make a list of the things that really matter to me. My kids were first and nothing else was even close. I actually couldn’t write anything else for a long time because of how I feel about being a parent. This helped me to slow down and be present.
Because most of the sh*t I was focusing on, instead of enjoying a moment, was worthless. My kids are everything and I need to soak up every second I can with them. Just watching them. Sitting with them. Talking with them.
When you make the list, you won’t have much on it. Because most things that take up time in our life are bullsh*t. It’s really true. Shopping — bullsh*t. Jealousy — bullsh*t. Whining — bullsh*t. It’s people. Slow down and pay attention to the people in your life that bring you joy.
Look at them in the eye when they are talking to you. Just sit out on a deck somewhere with them and relax. Walk together. Be present. But don’t rush. Slow down.
I learned to meditate.
Meditation is the single most beneficial addition to my life in the past five years. It makes it so much easier for me to be present in a singular moment. To stand outside in my backyard and just breathe the air. To look and appreciate the view from the top of Overlook Mountain in Woodstock. To just be still.
It also helps me clear my mind. At any time. Even though I meditate first thing in the morning every day for ten minutes, I am generally calmer for the entire day. More relaxed. And because I am so consistent (I’ve only missed a couple days in over two years), it allows me to get to that state on command.
I’ve said it before, I’m not even good at meditating. I enjoy the quiet interlude, but it’s not like for ten minutes I think of nothing but clouds and gentle chanting. My mind still thinks, but it’s easier to quiet it. And that makes it easier to be present anytime.
I got tired of technology.
I still use technology most of the day, but my need to consume it has gone down drastically. It all blew up when I was in real estate. It was too much. I couldn’t get free. I was relying on technology (social media, email, texting, apps) to fill a void in my life. We all are.
It’s not that I don’t use technology now. Far from it. I binge watch the sh*t out of shows, but when I do that it is intentional and I am present. I still look at Instagram during the ads (stupid On-Demand), but even that is changing. I used to intentionally do so many tech things at once it was all useless.
I got tired of my phones. I shut all the sounds off permanently. It’s so much quieter without the bings and bops and swooshes in my life. I don’t answer my phones, ever. Unless it’s a pre-planned call, my kids (haha, they just text anyway) or my sister.
I’ve shunned social media in many ways. Reduced follower counts on Instagram. Deleted Facebook and Pinterest and Quora and Houzz and LinkedIn and Twitter and so many othres. I just don’t care about it as much as I did because I am not using it to fill a void.
To fill any void I have, I spend time with my kids. And since they are teenagers and are in their room most of the time or with their friends, I write. And I am present.
I stopped convincing myself I needed to do more.
I quit my job abruptly one day. I gave away all my clients. And I ruminated on what kind of life I wanted to have. I finally stopped convincing myself I needed to do more. I am allowing myself to just be.
We spend so much of our lives being disappointed in ourselves for not putting our foot up on the next rung of the ladder. But what if that ladder isn’t the ladder we are supposed to be on? There are a lot of different ladders out there. And it’s not just work.
I stopped convincing myself I needed a relationship to be happy. I learned to be happy, period. And present. With myself. And my thoughts. And the actual world around me.
Instead of spending my time formulating a strategy to get higher in a career I didn’t even like, I cut myself some slack. I put some essential oil into one of three diffusers in my house and I just sat there. And breathed in lavender. Or eucalyptus.
I curbed my ego.
I believe that to be truly present in any moment, you have to be free of ego. Because how can you be solitary in a moment if you are worried about yourself first?
I stopped dismissing things that could help me. Therapy. Meditation. Reading. Online classes. Seminars. I used to think a lot of these things would make me less of a man. For seeking help. It’s part of the masks we all wear. To make ourselves seem stronger. More powerful than we really are. But that was bullsh*t. I needed to open myself up.
You can’t succeed using any of those tools with ego. You never want to be that person at a personal growth seminar who is calling everything bullsh*t. Just go home then. And let others take what they will from it.
It wasn’t ego as in, I think I am so great. It was ego as in, me first. And actually, that wasn’t me either. I never put myself first in life. But my mind did in ways that people wouldn’t connect to ego. I was always spinning about my life. Or work. So I wasn’t present. And I was thinking about myself. That’s ego.
When I sit now, in silence or otherwise, I don’t think about myself. I listen to music — the words, the beats, the background. Or a podcast. Or birds chirping outside. Because presence is so much more important than my fragile ego.
When I talk to someone I really listen to what they are saying instead of wondering how what they are saying can relate to something I’ve done in my life. I ask more questions. When you curb your ego, you ask more questions. And you learn so much more.
Because you are present.