How being present can change — and possibly save — your life
Thursday, February 27, 2020
Sit down in any cafe, ride in an elevator, look in people’s cars when they are stopped at a stoplight or observe college students walking on campus, and you’ll notice one thing: the majority are checking their phones and not focusing on the present moment.
As so much of our lives is now dominated by screen time, we’ve moved far away from living in the present. Even when not looking at a screen, many of us are lost in thought thinking about something that happened in the past or worrying about something that might happen in the future.
According to best-selling author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, “Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.”
That is not a small statement. Would we continue this behavior if we really knew that we were missing out on the biggest gift all of us have — our own lives?
Perhaps not. However, being distracted has become a way of life for most of us. People often pride themselves on being able to multitask, but at what cost? Where does all this busy-ness and instant accessibility lead? Apparently away from what really matters: a connection with ourselves and others.
Not only is this heartbreaking, but it’s also dangerous, especially if we’re behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. Statistics from the National Safety Council state that cellphone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year. In fact, texting and driving causes one out of every four car accidents in the United States.
I would guess that the majority of accidents and injuries of any kind (not only in cars) are caused by not fully focusing on what’s right in front of us, but instead being lost in a thread of thoughts.
This lack of presence and distractibility carries over into other aspects of our lives as well, especially our relationships. All of us are aware of how good it feels when someone really listens to us with no distractions. It makes us feel appreciated and loved; it opens our hearts; and it makes us more aware and alive.
And yet, something so simple has become exceedingly rare.
We all thrive when we give our attention fully to whatever we’re doing. The ability to focus is a big factor in one’s ability to succeed in the world. Being conscious or mindful shifts us from the exhausting confusion of scattered attention to the peaceful calm of doing one thing at a time.
And yet, so few are willing to be present for daily tasks.
Years ago, I found a solution to this dilemma. I began blocking off chunks of time on Google Calendar so that I would be able to set a boundary around that particular activity. This boundary allowed me to devote my attention to whatever activity was in that chunk of time: lunch with a friend, a phone call, writing, talking a walk, a work project, etc. This give me permission, in a sense, to put aside everything but that one activity during that time, instead of juggling all the competing demands on my time simultaneously.
Being present for each activity has been transformative for me: it’s reduced my stress and each task I do becomes meditative because I am fully available for it. I also feel less overwhelmed, which leads to fewer mistakes, accidents and misunderstanding.
I’ll leave you with a quote from psychologist, author and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach: “There is only one world, the world pressing against you at this minute. There is only one minute in which you are alive, this minute here and now. The only way to live is by accepting each minute as an unrepeatable miracle.”
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