What Does it Mean to be Present?

For the past few days a friend of mine has challenged me to set a daily intention. Today my intention was to be fully present in all I did, which was difficult with some things and easier with others. But what does it mean to be “present”? I’ve discussed this idea regarding mindfulness and meditation. But it goes even farther.

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Being present means being fully immersed in the moment, or fully aware and involved in what you are doing or seeing. For example, when you cook dinner you may have kids running around and you’re worried they are making a mess or possibly bickering. You may be checking your phone off and on in between stirs of your cooking stew. You may be having a discussion with your partner while you chop the veggies. This can cause chaos in your brain, in your body, and in your surroundings. Rather than focusing on many different things, being present would mean focusing on your one task–dinner. This is where creating boundaries is essential. You need to have boundaries in all of your relationships so that you and your loved ones feel supported and cared for. You could tell your children, “I’m going to start dinner, so I’m wondering if you would be willing to do a quiet activity as a team, like a puzzle or coloring.” You could get the kids squared away doing what they want to do, and then you could tell your partner, “I’m interested in knowing about your day, but would you be willing to tell me about it during dinner, so I can focus on cooking?” Maybe offer her or him to go have some time to decompress. Put your phone in the other room, so you don’t feel tempted to check on it. Now you can really get to the present. You can really focus on chopping the veggies–feel the knife chop through the onion, feel the difference in chopping a tomato versus a bell pepper, smell the aromas each veggie releases. Hear the sounds of the vegetables as you sauté. Smell the spices and ingredients come together. Feel the sensations in your arm and hand as you stir. Feel the heat coming from the stove. Notice the pleasure and sense of pride you get from creating something out of these ingredients. This is presence. This is the art of being immersed in your task. Doesn’t this sound better than the chaos in the first scenario? Sure, life happens and even when your kids are getting along, they may start bickering. Remind them you are cooking and try to have them work it out. You may get distracted, but coming back is what’s important; you don’t have to be perfect because this is a practice.

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You can practice being present anytime and anywhere. While you practice yoga, are you truly present with your breath and the poses? While at the park with your children, are you watching them, enjoying the sun and breeze, and noticing the smells of the grass and flowers? While getting a massage are you really feeling the sensations in your body–the release of your muscles and the relaxation of your mind? Being present can be difficult due to the distractions of familial obligations, work, and social media. But even with these distractions, being present can be done. You can practice being present with the family–watching your child play soccer while feeling the grass under your feet as you sit on the sidelines; you can be present at work–put your phone down and close the extra tabs on your computer and be present (of course take breaks as needed, but while working, focus entirely on the work); and start taking breaks from social media–limit it to once a day (this is easiest when you take the apps off of your smartphone), or you can limit the amount of time you’re on social media by setting a timer on your phone. Being present is being mindful and this does have immense benefits on your mind and body from decreased anxiety to improved cognition.

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Set your intention to be fully present. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it’s difficult at first. Not to be too cliche, but practice does make perfect. Give yourself time and before you know it, you will be enjoying the little things and maybe even feel more grateful seeing all the wonders of life happen around you.

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