practicing presence

a8c696afb9c89ce8de14e2dd4e2e6c32My mind has lingered on this post from a dear friend, who devotes herself to the consistent practice of mindful presence–be it at school or home. In it, she comes to this epiphany:

I realized then that Linnea [daughter] was not the distracted one. Her comments on leaves, sticks and wanting to play were anything but distraction. was the distracted one. I get lost in my head while I run not paying enough attention…

I was the distracted one.

I am the distracted one.

I am shamed to admit how much I hear the following–or something like it–from my much-needier-than-high-schoolers class of middle-schoolers that I teach at the end of the day:

Miss, you don’t listen well.

Of course, this consistent criticism is a mere buzz in my ear, lost in the relentless reflection on the day’s lessons and conversations, the checking of my email, the taking and submitting of attendance, the wondering where the tardy students are, the last-minute grading, the plans for after school…

I am the distracted one.

The nights when I sleepily answer the thoughts that knock loudly on the door of my slumber, it is mere minutes before I find myself lost in my head and wide awake. I cannot fall asleep, because that requires presence in the present, sweet stillness. Instead, I replay reminders of yesterday, or yesteryear. Instead, questions and dreams from the future drag me from the past to the time of tomorrow.

I am the distracted one.

In yoga, I cannot turn off my mind. I find myself irritated by the disrespectful chatter of those lying around me, ruining my external Zen which, damn it, should be internal. I go back to what that student said, or how my colleague looked when I said something, or memories of my Mom on her death-bed, or fears for my family. Like the good yogi, eventually, I return to my breath: Breathing in, I am here. Breathing out, I am here. But then, I’m thinking about my breath, thinking about how I’m counting it, looking at my girth in the mirror, regretting what I overindulged in last night, and then me and my mental partner are off to the races. Though which of us is the jockey, I do not know.

I am the distracted one.

Since my husband and I carpool, our commute together is our time to decompress, debrief, and discuss the daily happenings in our lives. I value this time deeply. Yet, so many times, I find myself having to say: “I’m sorry Babe, can you repeat that?” I need the repetition, because as my students point out, I’m not a good listener. How can I be, when I am simultaneously checking Facebook, playing Words with Friends, perusing pictures on Instagram, and checking the weather?

I am the distracted one.

What a contrast to two delicious moments of presence I experienced this weekend.

Saturday night I managed the gumption to get out the door for a dusk run through the neighborhood and mountain trails. Spooner was very grateful for a chance to escape the house. Eventually we arrived at where he runs off leash, alternating between checking in with me and running over the land in adventurous glee. As we reached the top of trail, sun bowing before the treed horizon, we turned the corner to head off the road onto the forest-canopied trail. And he was gone. Lightning speed, in and out of trees, off and on the trail, dipping into and beyond the thawing creek, chasing the beauty of the now. If his racing feet could make a sound, it would be the song of angels’ laughter. He was lost in the present of the present moment.

That morning, one of my friends, in the sluggish awakening after a sleepover, gathered her son in her arms and flopped him over in unabashed play on top of disheveled blankets. I will never forget the brief moment I saw him, upside down, little legs running along the ceiling, his eyes closed in pure, delicious delight. His giggle gathered in his gut and erupted and nourished all in the room, as well as the blooming beings outside. He was not in any moments from last night, nor was he in any moments from the next hour. He was in that one moment, purely there, bathed in the present of the present.

I find comfort in the words I often hear from my yoga instructors: Yoga is a practice.

Mindfulness, too, is a practice. Though a practice connotes the inability to fail, I find myself lost in a world where I constantly condemn myself for not being more present, especially for the lack of control over my thoughts in the moment when I am trying to be present. What a vicious cycle.

But, in honoring my practice of mindfulness, I anchor myself in the following whispers of home:

aafab58bc437cf3e39a982384ae283eaPracticing presence is watching thoughts come and go, without judgment.

Practicing presence is a life-long pursuit.

Practicing presence is not a goal for which to strive or apologize, since all that matters is this moment.

Practicing presence is the greatest gift I can give to God, to myself, and to those around me.

Practicing presence is the persistent restarting of thought cycles.

Practicing presence is awkward, but sustaining deep inhales and exhales, both despite and due to my surroundings.

Practicing presence is the intentional rejection of technology so that I can focus on who and what is physically present with me–and thus most important.

Practicing presence is constant intimacy with the Holy Spirit, who is always in this moment alone, the perpetual I AM.

The Kingdom of God is not a mere notion. It is a reality that can be touched in everyday life. The Kingdom of God is now or never, and we all have the ability to touch it–not only with our minds, but with our feet. The energy of mindfulness helps you in this. With one mindful step, you touch the Kingdom of God. (Thich Nhat Hanh)





3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. edpeters06
    Apr 14, 2014 @ 21:50:39

    Mary, this post is incredibly moving. I found myself lingering on your words and, particularly, on the definitions of practicing presence. And I am so very honored to be quoted within the beauty of this post. You inspire me. xo



  2. Susan Knight
    Apr 15, 2014 @ 10:44:51

    Beautiful post!



  3. Trackback: mind your sacrifices: looking at Leviticus through the lens of mindfulness | lifeinthedport

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