i think i just figured out what it means to “be present” and how to actually do it in real life. literally figured it out fifteen minutes ago while walking in the park. it’s too good not to share. so let me share: be. present.
easy, right? nah. but let’s discuss.
one of the first times i felt true presence was during a bikram practice. holding a back bend in one hundred plus degree heat and ninety percent humidity leaves no room for the nagging thoughts that usually accompany a group exercise workout. at least for me, those thoughts include do i look like i know what i’m doing? how dumb do i look right now? her outfit is cuter than mine. ohemgee, is that person looking at me? they’re probably thinking, ‘what is this fatty doing here?’ sarah, stop calling yourself fat! well damn, now i feel guilty about that. ugh. ad nauseam. however, during bikram, the only thought is of survival. and maybe eventually form. but mostly the survival of ninety minutes of intense physical exertion. i wanted to cry after my first class from the deep relief of plowing through that battle. it was huge. and nothing else was on my mind.
knowing that i was capable of sole focus in at least one area of my life, i began to try and find it during my regular yoga practice and during other types of physical activity as well. why exercise? why not art or cooking or something? for me, those activities are mental playgrounds for buzzing bee thoughts. they are when i do my best thinking/worrying/praying/what-have-you. but exercise, maybe because it’s pretty hard for me, takes all of me. and as it turns out, i naturally focused my mind on breathing or rep-counting but just becoming aware of that state and setting an intention to really enjoy it during exercise was a huge step. awareness, really, that presence is possible and that i do it kind of naturally during certain activities was huge. but only today did i find it in my real life – ie. the life i spend in public, not covered in sweat or wearing spandex. y’know, that life.
it turns out, staying present really is just experiencing what is happening right now. feeling your fingers and toes and the ambient temperature and the breeze if there is one and just letting yourself be a part of that. today i was sitting in the park during lunch. i’m really lucky to work in an office across from a beautiful park and that our office culture allows for and encourages taking a break. i have a favorite bench under a big oak tree that overlooks an old ball field. i sat on the bench today and my monkey mind was all over the place. turning over problems and spinning down rabbit trails, my inner voice had the sense to stop and say sarah, you should try and be quiet for a minute and organize your thoughts. hmmm. good idea. thanks, self!
looking up, i noticed big storm clouds above the tree line doing that thing where clouds bloom like fast-growing cauliflower. i love that thing. it felt like the universe was giving me a nudge of encouragement to go on and get to work. kind of like a nod that i’m really not alone in anything because i’m a part of the universe. and ultimately, anything i’m going through, no matter how huge, is not everything that is in the world. after surveying the field in front of me, i saw that there was only one person, a man, running laps around the park. being relatively alone, i figured i’d go ahead and talk it out out-loud. sometimes having a conversation with yourself is surprisingly helpful, especially for organization. i find you can think a dozen words at once but you can only say one. it forces you to prioritize, form sentences and communicate. some people might call this conversation with yourself and the universe a prayer and that’s fine. but i don’t want that to discourage those who don’t see the world the way i do. so let’s call it a conversation.
i talked with myself for a good ten minutes, judging by the running man’s completion of five laps, and by the end of the conversation i felt a lot better. no real conclusions other than to keep myself open to the experiences coming my way and an ask of the universe to help me stay aware, present and humble. as i left the park, i set an intention for my walk home. i’m big on intentions right now – the act of deciding what the next experience, walk, conversation, meal, workout, etc. will contain or how it will go or what you’ll do during that time. it keeps you focused. it keeps you… present.
my intention for the walk back to the office was to notice all the things i’m thankful for and that i love about that park. it was almost too easy to rattle off things as i passed by the kissing tree or a funny blue bird or the school minnows in the stream. but it was great and i came back to the office with a smile and a realization. that whole walk, all that i thought about was right in front of me as i was experiencing it. presence and sole focus in my real life!
love always, sarah