Over the last few years, one of my goals has been to be more present in my daily life. What does that look like? Well, it’s different for everyone, but for me, it means a few things:

First, and most importantly, it means paying attention. When you do things with presence, you notice your emotions, your thoughts, and even the sensory information you’re getting — smells, tastes, sounds, and so forth. And everything you do in the course of a day can be done with presence — from eating breakfast, to driving to work, to sitting in a long (boring) meeting, to playing with your kids…

Being present means you’re not tuned out. You’re not daydreaming. You’re not multitasking. Rather, you’re fully engaged in — and aware of — what you’re doing. (Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly identified a similar state of engagement as “flow” — though flow, to my way of thinking at least, is presence +1. YMMV.)

Another aspect of being present is a certain amount of non-engagement. This may seem contradictory, so let me explain what I mean with an example. If my intention is to drive with presence, I’m probably alone in the car, I’m not talking on the phone or listening to the radio,  and I’m not reacting emotionally to what the other drivers are doing. Let’s say I see a driver gliding through the yield sign, rather than actually yielding (this is Rhode Island driving, after all). I either tap my brake or change lanes — appropriate reactions — but I don’t lose my stuff by getting angry or yelling at them.

There are real benefits to this. Certainly, it makes the commute a much more pleasant experience. And it also “spills over” into other parts of my day, especially the parts when I’m interacting face to face with other people. The quality of those interactions is always better when I’m able to be present. I also tend remember more of what is said, and in greater detail.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that being present is always easy for me — or that it’s my default setting. I have to practice all the time, and there are days when it just doesn’t happen at all. Having learned to meditate helps me to be more present, but so does “assigning” myself times to do it — such as during my commute, or when I’m washing the dishes. By building presence into the little tasks that make up my day, it becomes more natural for me. More “automatic,” in a good way. (And practicing when I’m on my own also makes it easier for me to be present to others, even in times of stress or conflict, which is the bigger point of the exercise.)

So here’s a little challenge for you, dear ones. Find a time or two in the course of your day where you can practice being present. (Be kind to yourself if you have a hard time at first.) See how it goes — and then let me know. I hope you find it useful.

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