We are here, but not here. Present, but not present. In the moment, but a million other places in our minds. We are distracted; our focus blocked and blurred by an onslaught of information, entertainment, and emotional concerns. We are losing the art of being present.
One of the foundational characteristics of Rambling Ever On, is that we write about things that interest us. Things that directly impact us in some way. When you read an article about the inherent goodness of a life well-lived, it is important to know that it’s written from a place of transparency and self-reflection. Or, when you meditate on the yearning for our eternal home, you know those words were labored over through deep and personal contemplation. We write for our readers, but even more so, we write for ourselves. This article is no exception. When I write about the importance of being present, I do so fully acknowledging how often I fail.
Being present is a struggle
If you are anything like me, you spend way too much time on social media. Maybe spend is not the best word. Perhaps waste would be a better word to use. I get on Twitter, and I scroll and scroll and get angry and laugh and get angry and scroll some more. Of course, I make excuses for my behavior. “I have to get on Twitter to help build the REO brand” or “I have to keep up with all the crazy political tomfoolery happening in the world.” These are clearly the lame excuses of a lazy man.
I cannot find anything on Twitter that is worth ignoring the very people I have been divinely tasked to love and cherish. Too many times I have sat on my couch, my tablet open to my social media app of choice, while my wife or my kids have been speaking to me. I am listening, but only halfheartedly. The majority of my focus is fixed firmly on tweets, status updates, and comments from people I either barely know or don’t know at all. This is not something I can defend. It is rude and unkind to my family.
Frankly, though, this goes well beyond social media. I don’t want to let anyone (myself included) off the hook by myopically focusing on only one thing. There are many things that can distract us or keep us from being fully present: thoughts about work, television, books, health worries and concerns – for ourselves and for those we love. We allow these other things to dominate our thoughts, effectively pushing out the importance of the people who are sitting right in front of us. I do it. Others do it. You probably do it.
So, what can we do to fix it?
A few caveats…
I want to be clear about a few things that might affect how this article is received. First, we each go through seasons of life where our focus and attention might be more fragmented than what we would like. Perhaps we have a very sick loved one and we are overwhelmed with thoughts about them. Or, we are in a particularly stressful period in our career which requires us to be “on-call” 24 hours a day – at least it seems like it.
I recognize that we go through times where it is almost impossible to be fully present all the time. So, use common sense with how you approach this issue. Yet, I would ask that you be completely honest with your self-evaluation. Find the log in your eye before worrying about the speck in someone else’s. For the record, I have a Redwood in my eye.
It is an epidemic at this point
At the risk of sounding melodramatic, disengagement has become an epidemic. Everywhere I turn, I see people disconnected from the people and things around them. (A recent study found that “89% of Americans say that during their last social interaction, they took out a phone, and 82% said that it deteriorated the conversation they were in.”) I am confident there are numerous reasons for this increasing problem. Psychologically speaking, our tendency to avoid deeper connection might be the biggest factor of them all, though I am not as concerned about that aspect at this time.
My primary concern is the practical side to this. Whatever the root cause, the manner in which this disengagement plays out is incredibly tactile. We struggle with being present because we have grown enamored with peripheral engagement. Our Twitter feed is easy. Facebook is easy. Online games are easy. Our TV shows and movies are easy.
Sitting down and connecting with people is not always easy. In fact, it can be very challenging at times. Being present demands our attention and our focus. It is not something we can do well if we are distracted. And too often, we choose distraction because it keeps things less complicated and messy.
A few practical suggestions for being present
I do not claim to be an expert. I am the chief of sinners when it comes to being present. My failures are many so I am doing what I can to do and be better.
First, put down the device. When you are with friends, family, or a church group, put your phone down. Put it away. If at all possible, don’t bring it into the gathering. It is a distraction, a crutch, and sometimes, a shield hiding the real you from the rest of the group.
Second, commit to deeper engagement with the people around you. If you are going to be there, then be there. Be open and honest. Be in the moment. Avoid the temptation to think and dwell on things outside of your gathering. For that time, the people in that room with you are the most important people in the world. Treat them that way.
Finally, rejoice at the blessings family and friends provide. Every day at my job, I encounter people who have no friends or family upon whom they can rely. They are isolated and alone. It is heartbreaking. If you are blessed with friends and family, count it a joy. Prioritize those relationships. They matter. Let those times of fellowship sharpen you, strengthen you, and encourage you. Let your words form bonds that will last a lifetime. Those things will not happen if your mind is distracted and distant. Only being present – fully present – will allow these relationships to fulfill their divine mandate.
This is my altar call
I struggle to be “in the moment.” And while labeling this behavior as sin is perhaps going a little too far, it is definitely unhealthy and not how God intends for us to live. Nothing I’ve written here is new. We know these things. Sometimes, though, it is helpful to be reminded of things we know. The very process of putting this together has forced me to confront some ugly parts of my life. I have failed too often. I am implementing the ideas listed above, hoping they will help me be in the moment.
Being present is difficult. It takes work. It takes focus. But, being present is absolutely essential if we are to bear each other’s burdens and to love one another as ourselves.