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  • Writer's picturecatherinehwicker

The Power of Presence



We are constantly distracted by the inner voices in our head telling us we need to do more and the general distractions of the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. I have often found myself running from one activity to another without pausing or reflecting on what or whom was in front of me. This led me to spend hours this year reflecting on what I felt is wrong in society right now. It started for me with me investing significant time reading Buddhist books. I started reading these teachings because I felt Western culture does a terrible job of talking about death and dying (fun fact: we all will die). I was longing for answers to a situation that, realistically, I will never fully find. I felt that people ignored the fact we are going to die, meaning that there was a level of avoidance in the conversations. I first started my research with self help books, but the more self help books I found and read, I found the same answer, that if you do more, then your life turns out to be amazing, productive, and happy. I can’t help but think that something is wrong with this view point, after everything I have seen. People suffer, people have hard experiences, and many times things people experience have nothing to do with their own actions, meaning that one cannot fully control life. In the books, I started finding something deeper that we are missing, and that is the importance of presence. We are so worried about the act of doing that we forget to be fully and authentically present to the moment in front of us. Reading Buddhist teachings, I have come to recognize that I am guilty of this myself. I am guilty of sitting with a friend, while answering a text from another person, or going to dinner, but thinking about work, or worse, actually having to work on something.


The common thread in all Buddhist teachings I was reading tells us that we need to welcome life with where we are at, which includes the present, the uncomfortable, the good, the things that did not work out the way we want them to. Welcoming the present, even the situations we didn’t want, is something I found myself avoiding. I wanted to avoid the discomfort, the pain of the unknowns of my life. I thought if I did more and if I focused on the outcomes of my actions, that I could be more successful, more perfect, and be able to do it all. While I did not find answers to the situation I faced, what I found was the deeper need in my life to not avoid the discomfort in front of me. Previously thought I was doing life the “right” way because that’s what the self help books said to do. People would praise me for how much I accomplished in my day, and the accolades that came with completing goals. The truth is we will never “do it all”, we will leave our time on earth reading only a percentage of the books, seeing a small number of places, and meeting a small percentage of people. Living like this is counter cultural to what the self help books of our time, yet all we can do is be present in the time we have.


What have I changed in my life since I started this journey:

  • Spending time sitting in nature around me. I go without any technology and I take a book or journal

  • Turning off notifications except health related on my apple watch

  • Meditation and yoga to help find ways into the stillness of my brain, this is to help the practice of slowing down the hustle

  • Telling people I will engage when I can be present, instead of coming and only have answer

  • Not taking my phone in with me when I can or muting group chats


Since I have started doing these action items, I have found the quality of time with my friends is stronger. Because of this, overall I feel calmer going into places and I find that the quality of time to be on a deeper and more emotional level. I am far from perfect in the practice of presence and I am not coming to you to tell you I am. The distractions are infinite and the pressure to answer everything continues to grow. The act of being fully present is counter intuitive to what our culture demands from us. While I am continuing to grow I am also continuing to find a different amount of joy in the moments that I am fully present.


Books




These changes for me have been guided by my readings. While I am a devout Christian I found myself turning to Buddhist teachings for this. They welcome feelings, and where we are in life in a different way from many of the traditional books I have been recommended. The following readings have been useful for this journey and have led me to asking questions. I have listed them below, if this journey is one that interests you.



You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment Thich Nhat Hanh - https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6366371-you-are-here



Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change Pema Chödrön


Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears Pema Chödrön







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