Staying Present and Engaged

Recently, I received an invitation to a birthday party. The invite had the tagline: “Please don’t bring presents. Your presence is a gift.” Sounds so easy doesn’t it? Just show up and be present. I wish it could be that easy. As human beings, we possess a unique and very powerful ability to focus our attention on the present moment and simply be with whatever is before us—a rose, a loved one, a business problem. We’ve all had the experience of getting absorbed when our attention is so focused, so singular that we forget ourselves. The separate self is subsumed in the object of our attention. However, the brilliant human mind also has the ability to focus on events, people, concerns, etc. that are not right in front of us in the moment. We get pulled into the past or future. This ability is essential for planning the future or sorting through the past to share, celebrate, compare, reminisce, evaluate, understand, and many other cognitive functions including learning from the past to avoid making the same mistakes.

This dual function is most certainly a benefit, but it can also work to our detriment. If we are not discerning about how we direct and discipline the miracle of mind, if we let it wander too much, ruminate, get too imaginative or too lazy, the mind can lead us to make bad decisions, insult or disappoint another person, neglect or even hurt our body. At some point, most of us eventually realize that our mind has gone off the rails or down a dead end and we bring ourselves back. Sometimes we wake up with a snap. Sometimes we stop gnawing on whatever we’ve been chewing too late and find that we’ve missed our exit on the freeway or stood up a friend we were scheduled to meet for lunch. A client summed this up when he admitted, “I’m sitting in a meeting, or watching my kid play in a Little League game, but I’m not really there. My mind is so wrapped up in god-knows-what that I am completely zoomed out and out of touch with what’s right in front of me. Sometimes I feel like the walking dead.”

He’s not alone. We have slowly but surely given up or been conditioned out of full engagement with the present. Some of us are more involved with our smart phones than with real, live, flesh-and-blood people. And when the mind is hyper-stimulated, it seeks more stimulation. Too often, our addiction to technology steers us toward devices and distractions rather than people or important tasks at hand.

No doubt, you can relate. Who hasn’t sat at their desk working on the computer while their mind wanders off, perhaps planning a summer vacation, or considering restaurant options for dinner, or worrying about the kids, the remodel, the dentist bills—the list is endless.

The solution is to exercise presence on an ongoing basis, to stay engagedwith the here and now. Of course, you will continue to drift off on occasion, likely daily. What can be different going forward is adopting a new, exciting engagement with your body. This ability will become an asset. You will be able to steer your attention back to the present and focus on what’s most important and most real.

Today I offer you a 90 second video to kick off your day or recharge it with a mindful. moment exercise. Enjoy the moment and your presence!

Mindful Moment - Breathing