Welcome Oh, the elusive present! But I’m not talking about gift giving or receiving today. I think this present is even more difficult to find and hang onto. I’m talking about present in the moment. Do you ever struggle with this? I do, and I became even more aware when I tried to “learn” meditation this past year.
Food For Thought Last summer, I decided to give meditation to try. I was in a strange place in my life, leaving me restless, physically and mentally. I had done yoga before, but I wasn’t really sure how to get started with meditation, so I purchased the book 8 Minute Mediation, by Victor Davich. (Read more at Meditation Monday.) As I was learning about the steps to meditating, I had my attention drawn to the fact that I have difficulty being present in the moment. “Presence” is a key component to meditation. Believe me, it’s always easy to think you are here, right now, because where else would you be? But while my physical body may be sitting on the carpet in my relaxed meditation pose, right here in the bedroom, my mind can be in any of a million different places. Sound familiar?
At least when I’m doing yoga, I have to concentrate on getting my body into the right poses, breathing deeply, and keeping my posture correct. In meditation, though, I’m left to just sit there with my thoughts. But I’m not really supposed to have thoughts, or at least when I have them, I am supposed to recognize them and release them. As it turns out, my mind doesn’t like to get quiet. I think most people fit this description, right along with me. We spend our days, and even nights, rushing, busy caring for our families or others, working, or even busy with personal interests and pursuits. We rarely allow our bodies to be quiet and still, much less our minds. How many of us lay in bed at night, trying to quiet our bodies for rest, only to let our minds run frantically over to-do lists, worries and concerns, or even excitedly ponder our next vacation or anticipated family event. We have evolved into creatures of constant motion, either physically or mentally. So it’s no surprise I can’t get my mind to be still during mediation. I find myself anywhere but in the present.
I try, honest I do. I start my session sitting still and focused on being mentally quiet. Then I might start thinking about how much this is hurting my hips and back, and suddenly my mind is transported to a comfy chair or cozy bed. Then I start thinking about that bed…I really need to change those sheets…Ah, I love fresh clean sheets….won’t it feel so good to lay down on those clean, crisp sheets…I’m getting sleepy…I’ll be glad when it’s bed time…I wonder if my husband’s snoring will keep me awake again…aww, man, I’m going to wake up tired in the morning, again….that’s terrible, I have a really busy day tomorrow and I know I’m going to be tired…I’ll be so glad when I can go to bed tomorrow night. Really? Do you see what I did there? I’m present in the moment of my meditation briefly, and in a matter of a few seconds I have transported myself through 24 hours and into bed the next night! And this is just one example. When I’m thinking of changing sheets, I can launch myself into a whole series of thoughts that bring me all the way around and through my house, cleaning and organizing in my brain, leaving my mind tired even though I haven’t moved physically. Or I can hear my stomach rumble, and begin a journey through the kitchen or whisk my mind around a series of take-out menus deciding what’s for lunch or dinner, only to begin a mental grocery list, and bam! I’m mentally taking a trip to the grocery store, and once again I’ve lost the elusive present.
So how do we capture that elusive present? Well, in the mediation series, I am instructed to recognize the thought, label it as “past” or “future” and then let it go. As the thought it is released, I should focus my mind on “still,” “quiet,” “here,” and “now.” Surprisingly, it does help. In meditation, I have also found it helpful to gaze into the “black hole” of my closed eyelids. But the elusive present is even more important in our daily lives than in our meditation practices.
I seriously need to work on keeping my mind present in the moment of my daily life tasks. When I’m in the car with my daughter and she’s telling me all about her school day or her latest animal quest, I need to stay in the car with her, not just physically, obviously, but with my mind. Of course I need to pay attention to traffic and driving, but I don’t need to be thinking about that grocery list or where I want to go to dinner with my husband for our anniversary. When my husband is trying to cuddle with me at bedtime, I really need to stay present, right there in the bedroom, instead of mentally running errands or rehashing what that email or Facebook post might have meant. Joining family for an outdoor picnic requires my presence, physically and mentally, instead of playing out what-if scenarios for things that could go wrong or conversations that may or may not come up. When my daughter is having practice for equestrian sports, I need to put my phone away and watch her. Even my relaxation time is interrupted by my wandering mind, whether I’m contemplating what my next project will be or letting the guilt from choosing to relax keep me from enjoying the time of calm.
Here’s what I’ve noticed about the elusive present…that’s where my happiness is. The happiest, most joyful moments in my life are not when I’m planning, scheduling, or thinking ahead. The great times happen when I’m present in the moment, soaking in the moods and emotions of my family and friends. As I am fully immersed in the present I get all the sensory experiences, which turn into great memories. That’s what I want to reflect on, the great memories, like when my daughter was running through the sprinkler, laughing, and the shining sun was dappled as it glowed through the trees making the water droplets sparkle like glitter on the grass. I want to remember the delicious taste of the grilled hot dog and cold, tart lemonade as our family gathered around on the deck to just spend time visiting and share cherished memories from other experiences. You won’t be able to recall these types of vivid memories if you aren’t mentally present when they happen in the first place. No one wants to sit around and talk about the time I was planning blog posts while my daughter was singing in her school performance. No one wants to discuss the to-do list I was hashing out during my friend’s conversation. Besides being rude, I’m missing out on living in the here and now, where the excitement is happening!
How do we get that elusive present? Well, just like in meditation, it takes practice. I can’t meditate for a day, a week, or even for a month and expect to have perfect meditation practice. Being present in our daily moments takes practice, and effort, too. I take small steps, like in meditation and yoga, so I don’t become overwhelmed. A small step may be turning off app notifications on my phone. I only have noise notifications now for phone, text, and email. All of my social media notifications are silenced. And speaking of the phone…don’t take it to the dinner table. Be present for dinner conversation with your family. Talk to the people right in front of you. In fact, camping trips, hikes, and picnics are no-device time for our family. We didn’t allow our daughter to take any devices with her on our spring break trip, trying to teach and model about being present in the moment. She never asked for the device and she never said she was bored! I don’t take my laptop on vacations or to family gatherings. I take my phone to take pictures and in case of emergencies, but I don’t play games or browse the internet. Am I always 100% in the moment, no, but these are great ways to get me on the right track, focusing on the here and now. I think I’m getting closer to catching that elusive present!
Suggested Reading I found this really great article called 8 Ways to be Present. It’s a quick read from a spiritual point of view, so I believe it to be worth your time.
Today’s Scripture Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”
Today’s Recipe Being present is important in so many aspects of our lives. It has become especially important to me to be more present with my daughter. If you have kids, I don’t have to tell you they grow up quick! It’s no cliché! In the blink of an eye, they’re all grown. I was so tired of missing out on things in my own child’s life, that it was a contributing factor in me leaving my teaching career. I have been much more involved with her fifth grade year than any other school year, and just in time, too. She will be “graduating” from elementary school tomorrow! Insert sad emoji face! Wow, so many emotions, really.
Some may not think this is that big of a deal, but it is to us! She’s our only child and we want to celebrate every step and stage in her life. That’s why I made her this Candy Celebration Cake this week in honor of her big achievement. This is absolutely the easiest celebration cake to make and suited my daughter perfectly, as it has her two favorite candies and her favorite flavor…chocolate! I’ve seen it on Pinterest, Facebook, and at friends’ gatherings, so it’s not my idea, for sure, but I don’t know where the idea originated, either. But we do now this cake is a big hit at our house, especially with the girl of the hour, who’s about to move on to middle school.
Candy Celebration Cake
- 1 box chocolate cake mix, plus oil, eggs, and water for baking
- 1 container milk chocolate frosting
- 24 snack-size Kit-Kat candies
- 1 10.7-oz pkg M&M chocolate candies
Following package directions, bake cake in two 8-inch round cake pans. Allow layers to cool completely. Once cool, place one cake layer on plate or stand. Top with about a tablespoon of frosting, spreading to the edges, and place second cake layer on top. Frost top and sides of cake. Unwrap Kit-Kat candies and place around the edge of the cake. You don’t even have to separate them! I actually had to break one apart because I needed just one piece to fill in the final gap, and I had one package left over, since I bought 3 8-packs. Dump M&M candies in the middle of the Kit-Kat coral. Easy, and kids love it! The Kit-Kat candies also make a good slicing guide.