Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Practicing Presence

Yesterday during dinner, I caught myself drilling the kids on this afternoon’s schedule.  A logistical drill requiring that I finish a meeting downtown at 3, get home in time to leave for my daughter’s physical therapy appointment at 4:30, with her saxophone, much hated concert dress, and her brother in the car, because after her appointment we’ll go direct to the high school for her band concert.  Somewhere in there we will eat dinner.  They are good kids with quick reaction times, so really they don’t need the plan in advance – they just need 5 minutes warning time for the car’s departure and they are good.  It’s really me that was rehearsing in hopes it will all go smoothly.

Why am I like this? Always mentally racing ahead to the next challenge, working the branches and sequels, and figuring out the answer before the question is asked.  Perhaps it’s an outcome of being a professional planner for the Air Force.  It’s certainly an outcome of being a wife and mother in the Air Force who tried to be good at all three.  The result is that I feel like I am sometimes missing what’s right in front of me. 

If you google up “being present” there are a slew of interesting articles.  My careful research (meaning, the first and only one I clicked on) had some great food for thought:
Contrary to popular belief, human beings cannot multitask. What we are capable of is handling a number of serial tasks in rapid succession, or mixing automatic tasks with those that are not so automatic. That's one of the reasons that the NTSB reports that texting while driving is the functional equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. You just can't effectively attend to two things at once - even the superficially automatic ones.
So, how do we stay present? The first thing to recognize is that, try as we might, we really can only do one thing at a time, so we ought to do that thing wholeheartedly. Most of our time is spent in the past or the future, rather than the present moment. What we end up doing is passing through that moment on the way to somewhere else and, in doing so, we miss the moment. That's how life ends up passing us by - we do it to ourselves.
Rehearsing - and that's all we're doing is rehearsing -- the past is problematic because it's something that can't be changed. It's done, set in stone, immutable and immovable. Certainly we can change our relationship to the past, but staying there is simply ruminative and, for some of us, baldly destructive.
Anticipating the future is also problematic - even futile -- because, no matter how much we'd like to convince ourselves otherwise, we can't really control the direction in which things will go. We can set an intention, true, but, in the end, the universe has a way of deciding.
Staying present, then, means staying here - right here. 
The article, by Michael J. Formica, at Psychology Today, goes on to give 5 tips for being present.  

Step one?  Breathe. (Do it, take a deep breath.  Don’t you feel better already?  I do :-))

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