Why Aren’t We Present?
And What Can We Do About It?
Read on to uncover new tools and practices that will add creativity, spontaneity, and fulfillment into your life. Be here now. How do you live in the present moment?
The self-improvement industry often points to intentionality, goal-setting, and strategic planning, as a means to transform our lives. At the same time, spirituality, feeling peaceful, and general fulfillment come from a very different skillset—that is, the art of being present.
Life is full of paradoxes. Physicist Neils Bohr said, “The opposite of fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.”
The Unknown Benefits
Being present isn’t just about observing silence or meditating. Presence influences every aspect of our lives. It allows us to listen at a deeper level, share in a more authentic manner, and truly honor people, groups, and organizations. On occasion, presence takes us inwards to meaningful reflection, or allows us to be conscious of new things that were once unimaginable.
But before we can harvest the fruits of presence, let us discuss some of the obstacles that may prevent us from being present. It’s almost impossible to be present all the time because life is full of distractions. So first let us acknowledge the times that we are not present, and see what is happening.
I saw a Facebook post recently that read: “Life is too ironic to fully understand. It takes sadness to know what happiness is. Noise to appreciate silence. And absence to value presence.” Look into your life right now, and notice the areas and places where you are not present, or not as present as you would like to be. What is happening? What’s causing you not to be present? (There are seven distractions covered later in this article.)
My Story About this Article
Why is it so difficult for me to be present right now as I write this?
I’m worried, I’m anxious, and I haven’t had a good week. First, I could forgive myself for being all over the map in my thoughts, having judgements, and procrastinating.
That’s the right path. I don’t want to force myself to be arbitrarily present when I may prefer to be in an optimal state so that I can produce extraordinary results (for you). You want good writing, not forced writing, right?
It’s not about being present 100% of the time. It’s about choosing to be present when it makes sense to be present. Annie Kagen, in her true story called “The Afterlife of Billy Fingers”, wrote, “A child isn’t thinking about whether their painting is good enough. They’re just enjoying painting.”
Now that I am choosing to write in a good state, I’m letting go of all the mental chatter that judges, evaluates, and criticizes. Yes, editing is part of the process, but it’s not the first step. The first step of presence is unfiltered authenticity.
Be here now. Why aren’t we? If we take care of the things that prevent us from being present, then it will naturally be easier for us to be present. The following are the legitimate concerns that can pile up upon us as we get older…
Distraction #1: Physical Health
The body always takes priority. Even just before a huge life moment—like in the middle of exchanging wedding vows—an accident requiring stitches would take anyone immediately to the emergency room.
I’m a trooper who stays committed to all my appointments despite the signs of an oncoming flu or cold. My mindset wins over my body and 95% of the time I don’t get sick. Everybody’s body is different though, and when a body goes over a certain threshold of physical ailment, it will take control of our mind, too.
This is why good breathing practices and regular exercise causes more clarity for people, resulting in more moments of presence. Monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hahn, says, “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.”
Distraction #2: Mental Health
There is a quality of health that may or may not be present in our internal dialogue. Are we naturally optimistic? Do we generalize and catastrophize? What subjects are part of our regular thought patterns?
Influences like mainstream news media can have a huge impact on our world view and what issues become important to us. Meditation and various personal development programs can help keep our attitude and focus be up and present.
Mindfulness is a great practice that can help us be present in almost everything we do. We can raise the level of enjoyment of any activity, simply by being more present within that activity. By doing so, new sensations and opportunities of transformation may arise.
Ideas and possible solutions to our challenges can come to us in nonlinear ways, at seemingly random times. Have you ever had a new insight or an “ah-ha” moment in the shower?
Similarly, meditation can bring unexpected insights into awareness. Google answers questions well, but some questions are best answered by the subconscious mind over time.
Distraction #3: Environment
Why try to be present in an environment that won’t allow it? Changing scenery, moving rooms, or just having altering positions can help the body be more relaxed and comfortable.
Have you heard that home is where you can look and feel ugly and enjoy it? Where’s your home? It doesn’t need to be a place—sometimes home is “who” we are with. Everybody’s home is different.
It’s not that some noises and lights are good and others are bad. Some people find children very disruptive, while others have children’s playfulness add to the spontaneity of being present. Some people prefer the sounds of nature, while classical, hypnotic, or subliminal audios help others to be more aware, concentrate better, and be more present.
Create your own personal sanctuary that is calm, peaceful, and a spiritual place to be present.
Distraction #4: Overriding Stresses
Whether it’s a new project at work, or heated conversation with a friend, worry will circle around in our heads ad infinitum. Many of us have such busy lives in so many diverse areas, that there’s always something to worry about.
For example, the problem may be that we worry about family when we’re at work, and we worry about work when we’re with family! We’re present in neither, instead of realizing that by being present in both, we won’t have to worry about either.
Take care of the things in your life that are burdens on your shoulders.
You’ll find hope when you let go of the belief that what you want or need must be exactly as you think it should be.
Distraction #5: Long-Term Commitments & Promises
As we move through various phases of our lives, we can see how certain decisions could have had such a different trajectory into our present/future. Did we make the right decisions?
Are we in the right relationship? Have we saved enough for retirement? Many people ponder the questions but don’t necessarily do the homework. There are relationship guides and there are investment plans, just like there are mentors for any area of life exploration. Choose not to have regrets.
It never gets easier. You just get better.
When we have dreams and see progress, then our spirits will be much more present to everything else.
What dreams are still inside of you?
Distraction #6: Not Accepting What Is
What we resist, persists. Often times we can’t be present because we have an attachment to things being great—all the time, in every way.
How unrealistic is that?
The good news is that accepting the darkness can be transformative. Poet, Mary Oliver, says, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
In theatrical improvisation, performers are taught to “Yes, And.” This means, in every scene, we are to accept the offers of others. Saying “no” blocks action in a scene, and saying “yes” moves things forward. Treat your life as a series of scenes that you’d like to play out in a positive way.
And, then there’s the wisdom of the “And.” It’s not just about accepting things as they are, it’s also about building on top of those things that already are: True acceptance is taking our life circumstances, learning, growing, and then building our new life as stems from those great pillars.
Every adversity can transform into advocacy.
Distraction #7: Life Mission Misalignment
Have you ever felt that you are climbing the ladder of life very well and very fast, until suddenly… you realize that the ladder was leaning against the wrong building?
With that viewpoint of life, it can be difficult to be present to just about anything. What will it matter? Did being present in the past help all that much?
Yes, it’s just that we’ve lost perspective. Presence is the juice of life, and mind-chatter convincing us otherwise is the culprit. Now it’s our job to recalibrate our muscles, and deliberately exercise more divine presence as much as possible, as often as possible.
The more we are in alignment with our life purpose, the easier it is to be present to everything else. Instead of looking for purpose in everything, we can relax and have the purpose of enjoying everything.
Time flies when we’re just being present, especially when we’re present to helping someone else. Mother Teresa said, “Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. Let your presence light new light in the hearts of people.”
Plan Your Presence
Did you skim this article or did you take the time to be present with every idea?
It’s not easy to be present. There are practices, structures, and organizations that can help train your intuition, instincts, and behaviors so that you are more present.
Plan #1: Schedule taking an improvisation class
Second City is a one organization that offers low-cost, no-commitment, drop-in classes for beginners. It’s a fun and interactive way to harness the skills we discussed. There are several companies, colleges, or universities in most metropolitan areas that offer similar classes. Check your local meet-ups, or research improvisation games and start your own club!
Plan #2: Join a Toastmasters club
Toastmasters is not just about public speaking; it is about speaking off-the-cuff in unexpected situations Isn’t that what life includes? At every meeting, there is a “Table Topics” section where everyone (including guests which are free to attend), are presented with a surprise topic which they are to speak about for sixty seconds. This is a great exercise to practice being present… Accepting what is (the surprise topic), and building upon it (your speech).
Plan #3: Authentic Relating
There is a growing movement of people who wish to connect more authentically with each other and with all of humanity. IntegralCenter.org is an example of a “community-as-practice” organization exploring the frontiers of what creates stronger relationships, minds, bodies, hearts, and lives. Through various “relating games” and the practice of “circling”, participants are encouraged to confront/break boundaries (or consciously choose not to), creating deeper presence and intimacy with each other.
Beyond meditation and mindfulness lies community. If you choose to make any of the above three recommendations part of your lifestyle, your life will transform—you will be more present in your whole life. These outlets all offer similar and differentiating techniques and methodologies for being more present (not to mention rigorous practice). More than that, they all offer a safe place where the interactions of like-minded individuals will be most rewarding (collective presence, conscious co-creation).
You can do a lot about being more present in every area of your life.
Will you practice more presence with the next person you meet?
Let’s love the world together…
[)anish /|hmed, blind visionary