Working on being present

I have been working really hard just lately on being more present in my life. What, I hear you cry, does that even mean? We are all present in our lives, surely? Well maybe not. And this is exactly the thing that I have been pondering about myself.

I have noticed over time that being present, or being fully in the moment, has become more and more challenging. Distraction, lack of concentration, whatever you want to call it, has an impact on our ability to really experience what is happening in the here and now. It can lead to a disconnection from our emotional life. 

Our busy human brains seek out information, and in the time we now live, with on-demand entertainment, social media, and the general pace of life, it has become really easy to always be thinking about something else, about the next thing that will light up our busy brains. 

How many of us have found ourselves watching TV whilst also scrolling social media? Playing with our kids while trying to answer emails or texts? Out for a walk in the countryside with a podcast in our ears? I’m putting my hands up to all of these things, and I am sure I am not alone. 

And, if I am honest, living through the last 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic has made these habits even more powerful for me. Distracting myself away from the realities of the news of the outside world, my own isolation from my wider family, the realities of home-schooling, working, running a home – having distractions has helped me to keep my head above water, and I am grateful to them (special mention to Disney+ for the Marvel movie series that filled up my evenings).

However, I have begun to notice the pull of distraction in places it doesn’t really belong. Reaching for my phone as soon as the adverts come on TV to scroll and avoid the boredom of those 3 minutes. Not being able to settle while sitting in the garden if I don’t have a podcast or music playing in my ears. Oh, and a real biggy, eating while scrolling social media, which often ends in overeating snacks I didn’t really want.

So, at the end of August, as I set out on a camping trip with my family, I deleted all social media from my phone. I would not give in to its lure while I was on my one short holiday of the year, in a beautiful place, with my favourite people. I have to admit, I had to work hard to remember what I used to fill my time with before smartphones. Board games, reading, walking, running, jumping, playing, those things of childhood that I seemed to have left behind without even realising it.

When I returned from my trip, I didn’t reinstall the apps. It was one thing to live without them when I was in the Yorkshire Dales, it was quite another when in the comfort of my own home. But I realised something while I was away. I felt more present, more in the moment, and more at peace than I had for a long time. This might have been the effect of the wide open skies of Yorkshire, but just maybe it was the effect of forcing my brain to slow down for a little while.

I am now 3 weeks P.I. (post-Instagram) and it is going OK. I suddenly have a lot more time in my day, for work, for doing the kids homework, making tea. Nothing is at such a frantic pace as it used to be. I can concentrate for longer periods (to write a blog post, for example). I honestly don’t know if I will ever go back to the before-times. I did briefly download the Instagram app last week, just to check in on it, but the attraction just wasn’t there anymore, so it has been deleted again.

The impact of taking some of the “smart” out of my smartphone is that it has really made me think about the other ways in which I was struggling to be present. As a self-employed person, there is always a to-do list scrolling through my head. But what was the lack of personal/professional boundaries doing to my ability to be present for my family? How many times had I said to my children, “just give me a minute, I need to reply to this email”, when they asked me to play?

Being more present has benefitted me so much. I continue to find new ways in which it is helping me. As I sit here writing, I have some gentle music in the background, and I am so much more aware of the rhythms and the words. All my brain is doing right now is coming up with these words and hearing the music. No thinking about my to-do list, what is for tea, what somebody was talking about on Twitter. Just being here with this task.

But the benefit isn’t just to me. It is for the people in my life who deserve the best parts of me, not the 10% of my attention that isn’t busy thinking about something else. It is about building stronger relationships, my loved ones being made to feel like they are the most important person in the world. Because I am here, I am present, and nothing is going to drag my attention away.

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