Relearning How to be Present

Things that I’ve done to be here, now.

I remember when I’d look forward to the songs that I would listen to on my drive to work. A self-proclaimed music connoisseur, this was my favorite part of the morning. Back when cell phones were only used for talking and texting, and maybe the occasional game of solitaire — I’d examine my mood, then select the corresponding tunes that would set the tone for my day.

Once social media stormed into our lives and mobile devices evolved into much more than vehicles for traditional communication, my serene morning car rides were disrupted. As was just about every other place I previously went for peace and the therapeutic activities in which I engaged.

The need for constant virtual connectivity for no other reason than it being available takes us out of the moment. FOMO (fear of missing out) is at an all-time high. Although I still enjoyed playing my music in the mornings, I wasn’t really listening. I was too busy scrolling through Instagram at every stop light, checking emails and notifications, or seeing who said what every chance I got. Because, God forbid I saw a picture of someone’s breakfast more than five minutes after it was posted.

It’s the illusion of importance that allows our digital community to become disruptive. We feel as though we have to reply to comments and messages right away, and be “in the know” regarding what the world is talking about every second of the day. *Spoiler Alert* I am not the President of the United States. There is no message I’ll receive that can’t wait 20 minutes for a response. Yet, I was sucked into this false sense of urgency without even recognizing it.

Until, one day I noticed that one of my favorite songs was ending without me even realizing it had been playing. It dawned on me how little attention I’d been paying to the music, traffic and even things that were happening around me. Then, I remembered something I’d always known — The importance of being present.

There is research to support mindfulness as an attribute that promotes our overall well-being. Among the ways that it does so is by offering a heightened sense of clarity, which can improve our mood, lower stress levels and help us make more sound decisions. Increased awareness is a benefit in and of itself.

I’d lost that somewhere between retweets and hashtags. It wasn’t just during car rides that I’d incessantly check to see what was happening. It was while watching TV, having dinner, during phone calls (speaker) and even face-to-face conversations. None of it was receiving proper consideration. I’d find myself constantly having to rewind movies or ask people to repeat themselves because I missed something and had no clue what was going on.

So, naturally, the first thing I did in an attempt to be more present was limit how much I looked at my phone. I put it in my purse now before getting into the car and I don’t look at it the entire ride. It felt weird at first. Like, what do I do with my hands when they’re not needed for steering? I’d grow annoyed with boredom while waiting for a light to turn green. Sixty seconds never seemed so long. Eventually, I got used to it though. Now it’s something I no longer even think about.

I also don’t bother with my phone when engaged in discussion or actively enjoying someone’s company, unless it rings or notifies me of a text. Even then, for the latter I’ll wait for a break in dialogue to check the message. While watching TV I’ll only look during a commercial or two. If it’s a film, I won’t look at all until it’s over.

In full disclosure I still check social media pretty regularly, but far less frequently than before. It’s actually freeing to feel less connected. Or maybe it’s feeling less controlled that is liberating. I haven’t missed anything of import yet.

Getting a handle on the phone has had the greatest impact as it was the most common distraction, but other things that I’ve done to ensure I’m in the moment include consciously taking inventory of my environment. When I walk into Starbucks, instead of ordering a latte and immediately diving into my laptop, I’ll sit for a few seconds and look around. I’ll observe how busy the baristas are, where other patrons are sitting, and things such as which interactions appear more professional than friendly. I’m not being weird or staring, but I notice.

I also meditate every day. There are so many practices out there that help free your mind of thoughts, if only temporarily. This forces you to be present as there is no alternative. You’re so focused on your breathing or reciting a mantra that you can’t really consider anything else. Your mind will still wander sometimes and you’ll find you’ve drifted off, but it’s passive thought. You’re not actively giving energy or attention to it that could separate you from the experience at hand.

When I go outside, I pause to get a visual of the weather or feel the sun’s warmth on my skin. I make eye contact with, and speak to people I walk past. There is a plethora of little things that we overlook, and in doing so, the moment completely passes us by.

Ultimately, I have only one goal and commit myself to doing whatever may be necessary at any given time to achieve it:

Be where I am when I’m there.

Author of the critically acclaimed book on women and relationship status, “Single That.”

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