Sometimes I feel like one of my main motherly duties is to float around our home all day unexpectedly knocking cell phones out of peoples’ hands while barely slowing down my stride and murmuring under my breath, but just loud enough for the family recipient to hear, “Be present.” Few things drive these people crazier than that, but it has about an 85% efficacy rate that I’m going to carry on with until I find a better way to make a lasting impression on them.
I sometimes find the whole concept of “being present” cliche and elusive. What does it actually mean to “be present”, anyway? Why is it so important? And, how do we actually do it?
On the surface, I know it means not looking at your cell phone when you’re supposed to be hanging out with your kids at the playground like all the other “good” parents. I know it means not multitasking by folding laundry and washing dishes when you’re supposed to be watching a movie with your husband. And, I know that it means not fine tuning your grocery list in your head while someone’s talking to you about their problems.
But, the more I watch for how it plays out in real life, the more I see our difficulty with being present connected to worry. And, at least for me, worry shows up in so many different ways: worrying about our financial stability and job security during this pandemic, worrying about how hard it will be to take care of the kids by myself when Ben is about to leave for a long business trip, or worrying about whether Kat is upset about something I said…days ago.
Worry is really us focusing our energy on the future; we worry about what might happen days, weeks, or even years from now.
But, as the saying goes, you can’t be in two places at one time. If we agree with that, we can see how allowing ourselves to worry about things in the future, robs us of the energy we have to worry about what’s happening right now.
And, this is where “being present”, and why it’s so important, starts to make sense for me. Because it’s like this: focusing on the future makes it almost impossible to improve your present situation, but focusing on what is presently happening to you will almost definitely improve your future experiences.
Take something that I am guessing is something many of us struggle with: getting asleep…and, staying asleep. I don’t know about you, but the nights when I can’t sleep happen because I’m laying in bed while my mind is racing about what time I should workout the next day, reminding myself to transfer money so we don’t get overage charges, and remembering to put something in the mail the next day for UMass.
The problem is that me laying there thinking about all of those things that I need to do the next day (1) doesn’t make any of those things magically happen, (2) sends me into a spiral where one to-do item leads to another which leads to 10 more, and (3) the worst of all, keeps me from being able to fall back asleep because…you know it…my mind is too active to be able to rest at all. The reality is that the most important thing I could be focusing my attention on doing at that moment is clearing my mind so I can, in fact, sleep. Because I can assure you that all of those things WILL magically happen, and far bettter, if I can get myself a good night of sleep.
The task is at hand: detach from worrying, focus your energy on what the most important thing is you can be doing right NOW, and put your faith in the idea that being disciplined about focusing on the present will find you in the best place possible in the future.