Last weekend, I had the pleasure of catching up with some old friends from the Army. It was a great time remembering old stories and hearing how they are doing in life.
During one of our talks, I had a mini revelation. This was one of the few times I was fully present in the moment. When someone was talking, I was completely immersed in the story. I was interested in what the other person was saying without the desire to interrupt the flow. There were no thoughts of what I was going to say next. In fact, there was no thoughts of the past or the future. I was completely in the present.
Being present is one of the great challenges of my life. There is so much going on in my head, all the time. But letting go of this unnecessary “stuff,” I found myself in a state of bliss. I was free of worry and anxiety. As I thought about this experience, I realized that this state of being is where I need to be more often. How much better would I be? How much more will my family, friends, and coworkers appreciate an attentive person to talk to?
How did I do it?
First, I put my phone in airplane mode and set it down in another room. Without this perpetual distraction, I was more engaged with the others.
Next, I became genuinely interested in the others. This was easy. These were old friends I wanted to spend time with. But what if this was someone else? Would I have been able to do it? I’m not sure, but I do know one thing. My friends, just like anybody else, were talking about things that were important to them. Knowing that it was deemed important for them to share, I felt it was important for me to listen. People want to share with others what they believe is important or at least relevant to the conversation. By listening to them, we can listen to a different perspective. Fully present, we can see the world through the lens of their eyes. This is a chance many miss when they only concentrate on what they are going to say next. I have missed that chance too many times in my life. I hope the experience from last weekend is a turning point in my attentiveness to others.
This morning I listened to a guided meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh. It was a simple 15 minute practice into mindfulness. Being mindful is being in the present. When you concentrate on your breathing, you are being mindful. When your mind wanders, the concentration is no longer on the breathing.
I struggle with being fully present. In my twenties and thirties, I lived in the past. I spent so much time on “what might have been” and “what happened” that my progress was slow to move forward. I wasn’t aware of what was going on in the here and now, because I could not escape my demons from the past.
And then something happened as I got older. I left the past and moved right into the future. Progress stalled again as I was tormented by stress and anxiety. I was looking so far ahead that the projects I started were never being completed. My dreams were not coming to fruition but only remaining as dreams.
What I was lacking was balance. Since I was living in the past, I wasn’t learning from it but only repeating the same mistakes. Lost in the future prevented me from completing the tasks at hand. It does no good to be “way back when” or “someday up ahead.” Like the Jesus Jones song, I need to be right here, right now.
I demolish my bridges behind me –then there is no choice but forward. –Fridtjof Nansen
What do you know about Fridtjof Nansen? I had to look him up, and what I saw was amazing. This man was a Norse Indiana Jones. He was a champion athlete, museum curator, and artic explorer. He cross-country skied across Greenland. Two others attempted it before him and only made it 100 miles before turning back. Nansen forced himself into a one-way trip with no hopes of rescue by turning around. The only direction he could go was forward. Later in life, he would become a diplomat and a statesman eventually winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work in helping refugees after the First World War. Nansen lived a full life. He tested the limits of what was possible. If he could do it, what is keeping us from our own grand pursuits? Are we willing to test our limits and do something extraordinary with the lives we have been given?