Some time ago I was having a spirited discussion with a good friend about being present – truly present – particularly when engaged in conversation. At the time I laughed at his suggestion that I write an article on the subject! However, this topic captured my imagination while at school and is an ongoing theme for me as I learn to be more present in my life.
So, what does it mean to be truly present? Let me start with what I’m pretty sure it’s not. It’s not doing dishes or checking email while talking on the phone. It’s not interrupting that telephone conversation because “call alert” signals another – and evidently much more important – caller. It’s not watching the television out of the corner of your eye while helping your grade sixer with homework. It’s not absent-mindedly nodding and uh-huh-ing while your partner tells you about their day.
Being truly present is focusing 100% on the person you are interacting with. It is listening intently without judgement and without formulating your next comment. When you are truly in the present, it is impossible to be thinking about what you are going to say next, because when you are thinking about what to say next, you are focused on the past, focused on what was said, not what is being said. When you focus on what is being said you have no idea what you are going to say next; but whatever it is, it will be spontaneous and relevant. It will be honest and demonstrate true interest and care for the person you are talking to. Personally, I find these to be the best conversations because they are fun. The topic takes insightful, unexpected, interesting and often surprising turns. I find these interactions to be mentally stimulating, offering me the opportunity to get to know my conversationalist on a much deeper and meaningful level. And people know when they are being heard. They can feel it and it feels good.
However, there are times when we cannot be 100% present. Maybe we have the flu, just received some bad news, have a deadline to meet, or whatever. That’s okay, so long as you communicate this to the person who needs to talk to you. When someone needs or wants your attention and you are just not able to give it, just say so: “I’m really interested in what you have to say, but now isn’t the time because . . .” or “Let’s talk when I can focus on you.” When the people in your life know that you will give them the time they need, when you can be fully there for them, they will respect you and learn to reciprocate.
Then there are times when we have to be present whether we feel like it or not. For these times, it is helpful to learn tools that bring your awareness back to the present and put distracting thoughts out of your mind. Try bringing your awareness to the center of your forehead or grounding yourself with the mental image of your grounding cord connecting to the earth’s center. Keep both feet flat on the floor and face the person you are interacting with. If you find yourself wandering off, just bring yourself back via any re-focusing tool that works for you.
Being present isn’t only important when you are interacting with other people, it is also important when you are alone. Are you in the moment noticing the color of the light? The slant of the rain? The way your body feels? Where it hurts? Where it doesn’t hurt? Are you in the moment, or busy regretting something about the past that you can’t change anyway? Or are you entirely focused on the future and how events might or might not turn out? As you ask yourself these questions, you are in the process of learning to be more present. Just being aware of these things is the first step in learning to be present – for yourself and others.
Brenda Olson practices Jin Shin Do® acupressure and Medical Qi Gong in Nanaimo.