Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Being Present - My View

This is my speech for tomorrow's Toastmaster meeting.  My speech's focus is "Get to the Point".  The speech needs to have a specific purpose and be conveyed in such a way that the audience can understand.

I decided to work on something that's close to me and thet I'm constantly working on.  The idea of being present and living in the now. 

I won't be reading it word for word.  Hopefully I'll be able to remember enough of it to convey my general idea.
“Having spent the better part of my life either reliving the past or experiencing the future before it arrives; I have come to believe that between these two extremes is peace” --Anonymous

What does it mean to be present and how do we get there?

Being present means focusing on the here and now. 

Part of being present is not dwelling in the past.  Our brains aren’t capable of thinking about the past and being mindful of the current moment.  You can’t think of an apple and an orange at the exact same time.  You can think of either an apple or an orange, but not both.  Go ahead and try it.  We end up switching back and forth between the two. 

This concept also holds true for the future.  We can’t think about what we’re doing right now and the future that may or may not be at the same time.  By doing this and focusing on the future apple, we miss enjoying the present orange since we have left no room for it in our minds. 

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t plan for the future.   We always need to plan and set a path for the direction we want our future to go.  But, once we set our plan, we need to release it and let it go on its way without dwelling on the “should dos” and “should haves”. 

Something else to consider is that in different times of our lives we switch between focusing too much on the past or thinking too much about the future.  When a loved one passes, the loss of a job, or an argument with a friend, we go over and over the things we should have said or done.  When planning a major move, starting a new job or going on a vacation, we think about all the things that we need to get done, the people we need to speak to and the “what will they say”.

The reality is that we’re human and it’s in our nature to think about the past – this is how we learn from our mistakes and learn and grow for our future.  But the past and the future don’t exist without the present. 

Then, what should we do we find our minds racing in one direction or another?  When we’re being pulled away from the now?

I’m going to go over a few simple steps to help keep you grounded.

One – pause, breathe and as you do, take a count of the time.  Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose. Slow down your mental clock.  Count to ten.  You’ll be surprised to find out that before this exercise of counting your version of ten seconds was probably much shorter than reality.  We live in such a hurried society moving from task to task that we tend to shorten our minutes.  I read in the book Timeshifting how the author recommends that we tape the word now over our watches.  This helps us realize that this is the time we’re living in – now.    Most times when we look at our watches we’re doing so to see how much time we have before we have to move on to some future task.  We’re not being present.

Finally, after taking in your breathe and counting to ten, focus on what you’re doing at the moment.  Right now you’re listening to me speak, but your mind may be racing thinking about the errands that need to be done, the dirty dishes that were left in the sink, maybe about some family or friend you miss and want to see, or how wonderful the day is and you want to be outside.  Get the racing thoughts out of your head and think about the present moment.  Be aware of the thoughts that come in, but just as quickly let them out.  In practice focus on the task you are working on.

I’d like to give an example of how being present works in my day to day.  One of the hobbies I have is sewing.  This requires that I’m focused 100 percent and that I’m completely mindful in what I’m doing.  When I sew, I need to be present – which reminds me, I need to set some time aside to do it, but that’s a topic for another day.

After the more complex task of cutting the pattern pieces out from the fabric, putting the pieces together is almost meditative.  I need to focus on what I’m doing. I need to be aware of how much tension the presser foot is under.  I need to make sure that the stitches are going in straight and that the feeders are moving the fabric along smoothly.  The seam allowance needs to stay consistent; otherwise the pieces will not come together correctly.  I need to be present with my task.  

To bring yourself back to the present focus on the task that you’re doing.  Narrate the steps you’re taking – not necessarily out loud! 

Another thing is to travel light.  Choose what you’re going to carry in life, not physically but emotionally.  Remove any baggage that you’ve been carrying in life that you no longer need.  There are experiences and people from our past that aren’t worth holding on to.  If we keep holding on to that old suitcase (a bitter memory or an old friend we’ve outgrown) we keep opening it and rummaging through it, bringing up old memories and resentments.  Let them go.  It may not be easy at first, but once we’ve liberated ourselves from that old weight we leave room now to enjoy the present and enjoy our current experiences.

I’d like to end with a sweet example from my own recent experience of why it’s important to be present.

As I mentioned before, it’s very easy to fall into not being present.  Even Children that are usually very good at living the moment can fall into thinking too much about the future—as any parent on a long car trip with a kid asking “are we there yet?” every few minutes can attest to. 

Last Saturday, we went to our friend’s house for Saint Patrick’s Day.  Our son is really good friends with their son.  Early that morning we told him that later that afternoon we were going to Jack’s house.  That was a big mistake (lesson learned).  All morning it was all he would talk about.  “Going to Jack’s house!” this was all he said, even on our way to dance class.  I kept saying, “Later, later”.  I’m sure that it was the only thing racing through his head.  He didn’t nap and it was a very difficult day until we finally made it to Jack’s house.

The same thing happens to us adults.  We get so caught up in some future event that we can’t get anything done in the present.  We stress and dwell and go over all the different scenarios.  We fill our present with worry.  Yes, it’s important to plan and to make sure that we take care of our future but don’t dwell.  Many times we get caught up with the future because of bad past experiences.  But, just because something happened in the past doesn’t mean we’re doomed to repeat it again – and even if we are, worrying about it won’t help change it.  Just do something in the present to prepare and then let it be.

Remember, to work on your future you need to do so in the here and now. 

If you find your mind racing between the past and the future…
  1. Breathe and count.
  2. Return to the now, think about the task at hand and your breathing.
  3. Recite what you’re doing (to yourself).
  4. Repeat as necessary.
--Joanna M. Bartell
March 20, 2012

Footnote: those that know me must be scratching their heads because I am very guilty of not living in the present.  This is something I’m working on as well…breathing and counting, breathing and counting, breathing and counting…

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