Season of Presence
“I promise myself that I will enjoy every minute of the day that is given me to live.”-- Thich Nhat Hanh
“When you drive, drive.” These words come to me in the car. When I had taken the Intro to Zen Practice at the Zen center, my practitioner, Ando, had explained to me about the center of Zen—to do exactly what it is you are doing at any given moment. If you are eating, eat. It is incredibly simple, yet quite difficult in practice. So now, I tell myself, when you drive, drive—no more trying to be productive with other things while in the car, like reading at red lights, while driving down the street. I put my magazine down and notice the birds flying. Then I see a traffic sign before me. “End Road Work.”
One Thing At a Time
I wrote the paragraph above back in 2008- back when cell phones weren’t even presenting another obstacle to driving mindfully for me. But now, this simple practice of staying present that I preach to my clients often is one I still wrestle with daily. But so worth it. It's been proven over and over that multitasking, as ubiquitous as it is, actually decreases I.Q. and increase stress- significantly! (you can read about the myth of multitasking anywhere from Forbes to the NY Timesto NPR to Psychology Today. You can also test it for yourself. )
Being present is about being in the moment, but it's also about being available. It’s a cliché to say the greatest gift you can give someone is your presence- but if you don’t believe it, think about it for yourself. If you’re going through a hard time, do you want to share with a friend who’s answering a text message, or returning an email while listening to your story? Do you want your child to have the opportunity to share the happiest moment of his or her day with a parent who hears and sees that joy, or one who is distracted by a screen or a pile of papers?
Being mindful, calmer, more present, is not about reading about it, or talking about it, although those can add to it. You've got to do it. I challenge you-and you're welcome to challenge me back-because I need it: let's take this holiday time to stay present, be more mindful, and truly model the spirit of the season as it was intended to be. No small feat. Here are a few tips:
Make it concrete: keep it manageable, but do one tiny thing differently each day that’s going to make you more mindful. Make it a point to smile at 10 people, or do one helpful thing for a stranger you might usually pass by, or to make eye contact with your cashier or server.
Make it 20 seconds easier to follow through on something: According to Harvard researcher on happiness Shawn Achor, making tasks twenty seconds easier can significantly increase your likelihood to follow-through, and your happiness. If your challenge is not speaking on the phone in the car, put your phone in a zippered pouch in your purse, then throw your purse in the backseat when you get in the car. Start telling everybody that you won't be using the phone in the car. Trouble getting to the gym when you mean to? Put out your workout clothes and a full water bottle by the door the day before.
Listen. Set aside a concrete time this week to just listen- to your child, to your spouse, to a friend who you may not have had much time for recently. Challenge yourself to just invite them to share and hold space for them by truly listening. In the words of Oprah, ““I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common:…. They want to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’
Be grateful: instead of a traditional holiday card, why not send one thank you note today- and surprise someone with true gratitude for a simple kindness.
The Greatest Gift (is Not at Macy’s)
Think of one material thing you were going to buy someone and see if you can replace it with either a service you can offer to do for that individual,(once a month, for 12 months, I will... take you to lunch, go to a movie of your choosing, talk about the project you've been working on, etc.) or a contribution you could make in their name to something that would be meaningful to them.
May the peace of the holiday season be with you. For real.
Please comment and let me know your thoughts, and the most interesting gift you're giving this year. Want some support to reach epic personal success in 2016? Mention you saw this post and I'll give you 30% off a session or free entrance to a meeting of the new monthly breakfast coaching club. Valid through February only, and only for new customers. Now sit down, smile, and breathe- you got this.