Cozy up to the attractiveness of the present
“We must get back to normal!”
We hear it everywhere. A desperate cry for routine, for things to get back to how they used to be (but better!). We feel it as a whimper in our chests and a pulsing reverb in our heads.
We want this not just for ourselves and for our children, for their futures, and for all our relationships.
But what if we’re not getting to that elusive place anytime soon? What if we’ll be living with disruptions and uncertainty for longer than we think we can bear?
One consideration is giving up the future and any concerns for it for the present. Here are thirteen ways to cozy up to the present. Read to the end, which is all about how darn attractive you are living in the present.
Just show up Embracing the present can start with the simple act of showing up, as in “80% of success is in showing up.” Being present in our roles as parents and as teachers is especially important for those who look to us for their sense of stability and normalcy.
Master mediator, Peter Adler, shares a telling story about presence in a role in Bringing Peace into the Room. In reviewing the performance feedback from thirty critical mediations, he noted that he and his peers dissected and evaluated those events according to the standards of their profession. Participants, on the other hand, remembered the mediators as the people who opened the room, made the coffee, and introduced everyone.
Just listen When you don’t know what to do, think, or say, there’s always listening. Listening to yourself and listening to others. Oren Jay Sofer in Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication offers three pillars of adept communication: “1. Lead with presence. 2. Come from curiosity and care. 3. Focus on what matters.” All three can prop you up when just listening.
Just nothing When you don’t know what else to do, how about nothing? Veg on the couch. Do less, take naps. Medium writer Jessica Wildfire makes a strong case for this in The Great Burnout: Everyone’s tired and fed up.
Explore intentions Social worker, therapist, and mediator Lois Gold has written extensively about how intention — bringing a deliberate awareness and amplification of one’s guiding values and sense of purpose to a situation — enhances one’s presence. Consider what matters to you, then decide in advance what your intentions are for your home, classroom, approach, a particular day. Notice how that affects how you show up and how others respond.
Explore second circle Second circle is a concept of positive presence taught by acting coach Patsy Rodenburg. She describes it as the place where we’re most effective dealing with others, a centered and harmonious giving and taking of energy in ways that meet the moment and situation. You can get a better sense of this optimal energy of connection by contrasting it with the other circles: First circle energy is withdrawn, closed, and self-oriented; it’s the energy of hunkering down to escape or re-charge. Third circle energy is the expending of generalized energy and may across as blustering, aggressive, or oblivious to the boundaries of others; it’s the energy of advertising, sharing information with a crowd, and monopolizing the conversation.
Explore the nonverbal To stay in the present, connect with your body. Stretch, breathe deeply, unclench your jaw, let a smile come to your face. While there, you may choose to extend your nonverbal explorations to your relationships. Nonverbal communication encompasses such things as kinesics (body language), haptics (use of touch), vocalics (use of voice), prosemics (use of distance), chronemics (use of time), and oculesics (blink rate), as well as things like eye contact, smiling, posture, gestures, use of environment and appearance, and more.
Identify and meet your needs Isn’t it true that one broad category of things that prevents us from sparkling in the present are unmet needs? The things that claw at us from within, whether or not they’re in our conscious awareness, distract us from staying in the moment. We know about self-care and may tend to it, which is a great start, but often we may not know all that we need.
If you’re having trouble identifying needs, start with the inventory of over 75 human needs from the Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC) and notice which ones call out to you. Do you need inclusion, respect, freedom, clarity, growth, mourning? Just maybe you need humor. Or a glass of water. Once you know where you’re currently needy, it becomes much easier to remedy that.
Identify, acknowledge, and release your feelings Similarly, we can all become better at identifying our feelings. Ignored, stuffed away feelings bubbling for attention are another messy distraction from the present. When we are aware of our feelings, acknowledge them, and take in their informational content without resisting them, we are also better able to release them, keeping us better grounded in the reality of the here and the now. The CNVC also has an inventory of feelings, which we can review if we’re having trouble pinning down what we’re actually feeling.
Re-flow your to-do list “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world,” as Einstein once said. But compound tasks are a death spiral to hell. What that means is that today’s undone tasks don’t get tacked onto tomorrow’s list and tomorrow’s compounding undone tasks don’t become the to-do’s of the day after tomorrow. Stop the insanity. If there’s no time today to handle items on a to-do list, the amount was wrong, the expectations were wrong, the stars were out of alignment. Re-assess and re-flow the tasks over a reasonable number of days.
Make yourself right, right now Making yourself right, right now is always an option and a handy skill for freeing ourselves of shoulds, ruminations, recriminations, and overwhelm and bringing us back to the moment. This is the mental/physical exercise of lowering the bar of expectations until you know in your head and in your body that everything is perfect as it stands in this moment. You are amazing and have cleared the bar! Only once that most excellent awareness has been established do you allow yourself the next move forward.
Hold the space for brilliance In her 2013 “Talks at Google,” Marianne Williamson called leadership “holding the space for the brilliance of others.” We know kids are struggling now, and many are just plain suffering. But we also know kids are resilient and creative and containing their own magic. In the present, we can hold the space for that brilliance to reveal itself and play out in the world.
Perfect the present Thomas J. Leonard, a pioneer in the coaching field, has a wonderful chapter in his book The Portable Coach called “Unhooking Yourself from the Future.” His top ten suggestions for doing so are almost indulgent: “Give up the goals that are seductive. Perfect the present. Stop watching television. Stop motivating yourself. Stop trying to become a better person. Stop overplanning. Stop hoping. Give up future-based possibility. Stop associating with strivers. Stop using if/then formulas.” Many of these stops are the exact things we have been filling our pandemic days and nights with as we attempt to get somewhere better. What Leonard says about perfecting the present gets at the wisdom behind all of them:
“But what if you took the same energy and applied it to perfecting the present right now? You’d probably attract a better future instead of trying to acquire it — a very different approach…A better future will find you, no effort required, because you’ve made the most of the present you’ve been given…The present is a superb teacher; the future is a seducer.”
Be attractive Finally, continuing with the thinking of coach Thomas Leonard, living in the present is where we’re most attractive. We’re not stuck in the past or multiple nostalgias, we’re not pining for or worrying about various futures. We’re where we’re at right now, making the most of the present we have the best that we can.