Being (a) Present

Saturday, February 18, 2012 - 14:48
Universal Meditation - AlicePopkorn - Flickr

Multi-tasking your life away can rob you of the greatest gift this world can give you: joy.

I know from experience because I’ve repeatedly fallen into the following traps:

  • The hero-complex (e.g. doing everything myself instead of asking/accepting help)
  • The fool’s errand of “I’ll make everyone happy.”
  • Saying yes to every opportunity that shows up at my door step instead of saying no and focusing on what’s truly important.
  • Dwelling on something from the past or coming up in the future instead of being in the here and now.

And the end result of consistently trying to fit in 30+ hours of activity into a 24 hour day? Burnout…

And when I hit the point of burnout in my life, I simply check out mentally (probably as a means of survival). What is left is not actually me, but a shell of my existence that can function just enough to give the impression that I’m still here. In fact, I can carry on entire conversations via Pavlovian responses without every actually hearing what the other person has to say. “Uh huh”, “yup”, “oh yeah”, etc. Meanwhile, my mind could be still multi-tasking away or simply in la-la land.

In the extreme case, this can go one for days, weeks, or even months unless and until I take enough time off to recover and regain balance in my life. And only then can I become (a) present.

The Present Moment - It is a Gift

If you’re ever received instruction on yoga, meditation, or stress management, you’ve probably heard of the benefits of being present in the moment. And while the following quote is often overused, there is a lot of truth to it:

“The past is history, the future is a mystery. But today is a gift…that’s why they call it the present. So cherish every minute of it.” —-Elvis Stojko

However, I believe it goes beyond being a gift just for you. I believe that being present is a gift for the entire world. Why? Because when you’re no longer going through life in a hypnotic trance, now you can actively engage with all the people, places, and opportunities around you. Instead of barely acknowledging others and going through the motions, now you begin to shake things up and have a meaningful conversations with them. And who knows, that single conversation may spark a friendship, a business opportunity, and open up a myriad of other possibilities in life that would have never came to fruition had you been closed off.

A Simple, Powerful Example

Here’s something different to try the next time you go through a check out line at a grocery store. Instead of giving a default response to their question, actually look the person in the eyes and give them a meaningful response, different, or even outrageous response. By doing so, you’ll actually wake them out of their own trance and see beyond their walled off exterior.

I still remember the time I was in Best Buy and an exhausted clerk asked me how my day was going. I responded with something along the lines of “Stupendous! It’s a glorious day out there and my wife and I are having a smashing good time.” She said that was the first time anyone ever answered with stupendous. That led to a 1-2 minute conversation and even led to how my wife and I met from 2000 miles apart (she was in Colorado and I was still living in Boston).

In that brief moment, we were no longer customer and store clerk. We were just a bunch of people standing around as equals, having a good laugh, and changing up what otherwise could have been a boring interaction. Did it solve the world’s problems or have a profound impact on the course of humanity? No… but like a small present, it created a moment of joy that would have otherwise remained hidden.

The Gift of Joy

When I’m not present, I can be irritable, angry, aloof, or simply a personality-less body. When I’m present, I can make almost anyone smile (not because I have to or because I’m necessarily trying… but it’s simply the natural reaction to being in the flow).

The same is probably true for you. Not only does being present give you the power of choice about what you’re feeling and experiencing in every moment, but it allows you to share that gift with everyone you meet.

In short, by being present you can be a present… to the world.

Photo by AlicePopkorn used under the Creative Commons.

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: Chief Product Officer of DRUD Tech. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.