Recently I have been struggling with presence. It could be the season that's full of sparkly lights and wish lists competing for our attention. It's natural to be distracted when all of New York turns into the proverbial shiny thing. It could also be the weather. It gets cold out and I retreat back into myself, huddled under my scarf and sweater and coat and hat and gloves and leg warmers and general total-body-hunching under the weather. Whatever the reason, I've been finding myself drawn into distraction. When that happens, I get cranky. I tend to combat the crankiness by over-working and then slamming into burnout where I collapse into a regretful stupor. It's not cute. So knowing this non-presence is a bad habit I'm trying to kick, I turned my old habits into triggers. When I went to do something the old way (as we inevitably will when we're on autopilot), I used it as a reminder to do the opposite. It wasn't a perfect experiment, but it gave me a few benchmarks to help me recognize how being present will look in my life when I'm really grounded.
This is what I did differently:
- I didn't just look at my fellow commuters, I saw them. I started at their shoes and worked up to their face (it was the least invasive, I thought). I'd see their shoes and pick out the details. Did they look worn down? Were they work shoes or pleasure shoes? How did their feet look in the shoes, relaxed or tense? Then I worked up and looked at their clothing. I tried to pick out every detail and would start making up stories about who they were and where they were going. Finally, I looked at their faces and this was the best part. I saw things I would have never seen by breaking my neck toward my iPhone. When I saw them, I found my own anxiousness dissipate merely because I was using my imagination. I wasn't just consuming information, I was creating stories along with it. It made me calmer. It also gave me the added bonus of feeling compassion for these strangers. And who couldn't use a little more compassion?
- I gave up on anticipating how things would turn out. When I was younger and in a fight with one of my friends, I would stand in front of the mirror and have a fake fight. I'd anticipate what she would say, and then how I'd defend myself and lay the final smackdown. I always anticipated the worst. Maybe that's just the tiniest of flares for the dramatic that I had, but it was also an act of anticipation that made me difficult when we would actually get into the confrontation. I ended up fighting a fake battle with myself and missed what was actually happening. Lately, when I've been having those heart to hearts that can go one of two ways, I've reminded myself to just not know what my counterpart is thinking until they speak. Instead of anticipating what the other person will say, I simply remained open and trusted in my ability to communicate when the time came. The benefit? Things end up going much more in my favor because I've let go of control and simply shown up.
- I stopped hearing about something and relating it back to myself. When I do this it's one part selfishness (Thank you, World! This is my opportunity to not feel alone in your vastness because this person had the exact same experience! Go me! I'm better off than I thought! Woohoo!) and one part actual compassion (I genuinely want the person to know they're not alone). The problem is that selfishness only further isolates me and the most compassionate thing we can do for each other is to look directly in someone's eyes and just say, I hear you. People don't always need me to fix it. My need to fix things is my own discomfort with the fact that I'm not in control. The truth is, I'm not. But I am quite capable of giving someone loving energy when they need it the most and that's what I've been attempting to do instead.
- I let myself be the last to speak. Have you met me? This was hard. Sometimes I get so excited by ideas that I need to get them out. NOW. And sometimes, if I'm being painfully honest, it's because I think my idea is the best. I know that's not true, but when I'm on autopilot my mouth does not slow down. So recently I was at an event where it was assumed we would each be throwing around ideas and problem-solving and instead of getting my two cents out first, I waited. I listened. I tried to hear everyone else's opinions without just waiting to add my own. I slowed down enough to ask myself, will your opinion here add value to the conversation or will you just be looking to participate? It changed my answer a little bit. It made it more valuable. And when I spoke, I wasn't feeling a battle of energy to get to the end of my sentence before I got cut off. I felt my friends listening, too. That one was powerful.
We are in a season of compassion, and I found that looking at my most annoying qualities were actually keys into being an all around better human being. Where I usually would beat myself up over my inconsistencies, I chose to create an opportunity to improve instead.
We're so tough on ourselves. The most present thing we can do is acknowledge what isn't working and with an open and loving heart, shift. Just a little.