Have you ever been somewhere, but you weren’t really there?
Every year for vacation, I make the trip to the small town of Cooperstown, New York. It is famous for being the place where baseball was born and the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Neither of those reasons is why I go. I go because it is quiet there. It’ peaceful. I go to read and write. This year was going to be better than the previous years because I had a specific project I planned to work on.
This year was going to be different.
My mom went with me this time to watch my brother’s nine month old daughter, Isabelle, while he and his wife were at work. That’s what grandma’s do. While she took care of Isabelle, my plan was to work at the only coffee shop in town until 2 pm, get lunch at Danny’s Place, maybe get a run in and then spend time with the family in the evening. The plan was flawless. It’s how every year before had worked out.
This year turned out differently.
I don’t have any children of my own, so I didn’t know that nine-month-old babies were so high maintenance. I thought they slept all day, and when they were awake were easy to entertain. I was wrong. The other variable I didn’t expect on this trip was that my niece would take a liking to me as much as she did. Any time I was in her eyesight, regardless of who was holding her, she would stretch her arms out towards me. There were times, that even when her parents were holding her she still stretched out her arms towards me. It melted my heart, or soothed my ego I am not sure which one, but each time I stretched out my arms towards her and I picked her up. Upon which ensued hours of playtime, going for stroller walks to trick her to fall asleep, and feeding her.
This year was very different.
There were several times while I played with her that I thought to myself, “I really need to be writing. I should hand her off to my mom so that I can go to the coffee shop and write.” But I couldn’t do it. As I sat with her pretending to make her doll speak I came to the realization that I wasn’t open to the gift that was right in front of me. I was there, but I wasn’t really there. Isabelle was staring right at me, giving me a gift. In the rush to do what I thought I was supposed to be doing, I closed myself off, my heart and my mind to this spontaneous and unexpected moment of joy. We often run the danger of missing out on the things hidden in plane sight when we are too busy focused and worrying about other things. Important things. In our world of hyper-connectivity, being fully present in the moments when life is happening is becoming nearly impossible. To be present, is to experience life in a deeper way. Being present, is being open to the gift of life as it is happening right in front of you. There are no redo’s in life. Once a moment passes it is gone. It becomes a memory, accessible only in thought. To be present, is to be open to the conversations, the body language, the nuances of the people you are with.
Presence is the secret to living fully alive.
I am recovering from the addiction of being absent from the present. I am constantly thinking about the next thing I have to do. I constantly check my phone, even when I haven’t heard a notification. Phones are great when we need them, but they can quickly become the bricks of our slavery, chaining us to the constant need to check for messages, emails, and social media feeds. Succumbing to this as often as it does takes me away from the present moment. This is frightening because time flies by us at such a rapid speed, you blink once and the moment is gone. When we look back on our lives, it feels like it all happened in an instance. We can’t relive any of our favorite moments. All we get is a memory of the experience. If you are not fully present to the moments of your life, you will merely be left with fleeting and blurred memories.
There is an expression that says, “Where you are, be there”. Yes, even the dull, normal, ordinary and mundane moments of your life. All the times when you stared at the clock watching the minutes drag on at a snails pace. Those moments were sacred, because you were there to experience them.
Playing with my niece was normal, and ordinary. Yet being fully present to the moment led me to inexpressible joy. So much so, that even as I write this I would rather be playing with her. Sitting with her wanting to be somewhere else working, I was suffering from the false notion that more meaning would come from working, writing, creating, and producing. At the time I was putting good things before the better thing.
May you be fully present to life as it happening right in front of you.