For much of my life I’ve heard others talk about the importance of being present – of being fully present in the now rather than reliving the past or worrying about the future. The concept made sense but last week I experienced this first hand in the most real way in my life so far.
One of my nieces asked me to read her a book. It was a Sesame Street book about going to the hospital – Grover needed his tonsils out and he was nervous about the surgery. So, he and his mom, along with Bert and Ernie, took a tour of the hospital. I was reading along and then I got to the part where the nurse wanted to take them to the happiest place in the hospital. I had a feeling I knew where this was going – the nursery.
It was in this moment that I had two co-existing thoughts:
1. I want to throw this book across the room. I want someone to acknowledge that what I’m doing is really hard. I want someone to come over and say, “Here let me finish that for you.”
2. I’m sitting here on this couch in my mom’s house reading a book to my niece. That’s all I’m doing – reading a book to a little girl who is engrossed in a story about a hospital visit. All I’m doing right now is reading a book.
Later, when I reflected on this moment, I realized that I was being fully present in this moment when I recognized that all I was doing was reading a book. My first thoughts of anger and sadness had nothing to do with the present – those feelings came from past experiences and future hopes. They had nothing to do with what I was doing in that moment.
So, this is what it feels like to be present:
Holding one of my favorite people in my arms, reading a book on a comfy couch in front of a fire surrounded by people who love me. This is presence.
A few days later I was watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone while running on the treadmill. I’ve seen this movie multiple times – it’s good to watch something that doesn’t require deep thought or concentration when on a treadmill! J Harry discovered the Mirror of Erised and didn’t want to leave it. Dumbledore told him, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
When I fixate on the future that I can’t predict or control, I’m not being present. When I dwell on what won’t be, I’m not here, in this moment. When I focus on dreams that may never come true, I’m not living today.
Both of these experiences impacted me in a powerful way. And yet…
What happens when being fully present is painful? There are times when being present means recognizing the reality of my body, my life. Sometimes dwelling on dreams keeps the “maybe” alive, while honoring the reality allows the grief to swell again.
I asked Brad about this – how can I be present even when the present is painful? He reminded me that all of this is a practice – practice of mindfulness, practice of being present. There may be some rare people who don’t have to practice, but most of us do – we don’t just magically find ourselves fully present in every moment of every day. In order to make the steps in more mindfulness, more presence, I have to practice.
And, he reminded me that I have these two particular moments to look back on when I’m struggling to be present. When I’m having a hard moment, I can stop and look around me – where am I, who am I with, what’s going on – all of these questions bring me back to the present. When I’m falling into the place of “what if” or “maybe” I can remind myself that in order to live, I need to be where I am right now. There is a time for dreaming and planning for the future, but in the case of infertility, it’s not helpful.
There are times when I don’t want to be present and in those cases, I zone out in front of the TV or on my phone. However, more often than not, I’m finding myself needing more moments of being fully present, like running on a treadmill – I either stay present or I die! 😉 Sewing keeps me present. Walking the dog keeps me present, most of the time. Yoga – another practice – I have to stay present with my breath in order to hold poses. Even eating a good meal – I want to be present for that! Looking at the full moon on a cold winter morning – present. I could go on and on…
I think there’s this illusion in childhood that once you’ve reached some magic age you’re done practicing – you’ve mastered life, you can sit back and relax. However, what I’m discovering is that’s not the case…the practicing never ends. It may change, but it doesn’t end. I think practice has to become a way of life. So, I’m practicing.