How to Practice Being Present
Written by Aush Chatman
“Life is routine, and routine is resistance to wonder.” – Abraham Heschel
This quote speaks to me presently. It makes me think of how many weeks in the past year that I have had the feeling of waking up and it is already Friday! It crosses my mind in those moments that I have no idea how I arrived at yet another Friday. How? I mean really, HOW? It is akin to the feeling of driving home from somewhere on complete autopilot and not remembering if you signaled at all, when exactly you changed lanes, or stopped at red lights. Have you ever experienced that? Here I am moving at 70mph (I always do 5 over) and haven’t focused on the task at hand at all!
The interesting part of all this is how our brains work, we are actually built for routine. We don’t have to think about putting on our pants once it becomes second nature. Even in the gym, after you have done enough PVC dislocates you sort of just go through the motions. Our bodies are good at making activities take up as few resources as possible once it learns the routine, the choreography of it. This really is fundamental to our survival and thriving. Of course though it comes at a cost to being PRESENT with what you are doing.
The wisdom comes in practicing being present. So that when the situation arrives that you need to bring your focus to an activity you can do it. Or so that emotions and situations don’t lead to off the cuff reactions where some forethought could lead to a wiser or better response.
Elisha Goldstein has a great book “The Now Effect”, in it he advocates strategies for how to accomplish this. The book also delves into the neuroscience and scientific aspects of why we work this way.
I wanted to offer my major takeaway from the book (highly recommend picking it up if you have noticed this in your life like I have).
The takeaway is that we want to PRACTICE increasing space between stimulus and response in our life.
Very practically, if we are in a stress inducing situation, we can take a moment, take a few breaths, and ask yourself, “What is the most important thing for me to be doing right now?” The kicker here is that the answer to that question COULD be important, but it isn’t really about answering the question with the “correct” answer. The point is the ability to stop and slow is what will lead to better decision making and it allows you to be present with yourself and not act on instinct or emotional reaction. This is the heart of mindfulness and it goes against our first order biology.
I said it earlier but the wisdom is in knowing when to use this, we can think of extremes easily in a fight, in danger etc, where this wouldn’t be the wisest move. I do believe we have been living in a higher than normal stress level in general since March 2020, and so I have found these moments of intentional presence life giving.
Life Giving in the way that I notice the little things again. Sounds cheesy but flowers, butterflies, I think younger kids and older folks are good at this, it is us in the middle in the rat race that need to be mindful of being Present.
Try it out and I hope it will refresh your soul as it has mine.