We live in a world of movement, of busyness and racing from one moment to the next. We’re taught to be productive and efficient so we learn to multi-task. We talk on the phone while checking our email with something playing in the background. And when we wake up, we start our days with social media, caffeine, the news, and lists of tasks to accomplish. I am a person of busyness; I pride myself on being productive, setting goals and achieving them, and structuring my day so that I make the most out of my time. These last few months however, have been especially demanding and it has been through this incessant busyness that I found that all of the things I had to do were keeping me from getting what I wanted most done. And so busy became stress, pressure, and worry. I began to notice that I wasn’t getting things done so much as I was just doing things. And without even really knowing it, I began looking. It’s kind of a weird place to be in when you are aware that you are searching, but unsure of what it is that you are looking for.
But if there is one thing for certain, it’s that I’ll know when I find it.
And in my search, here is what I’ve found that I’ve lost:
It’s hard to be still when you feel pressured to move. When you are pulled by goal setting, self-development, and the pursuance of passions, your focus on the future tends to rob you of today. What I’ve began to learn is that my pressure is internal; I set personal deadlines and place the high expectations on myself — so part of being still has been learning to let go of the self-imposed stress I tend to create. Part of being still has been learning that I don’t always have to move to progress.
For me, stillness is about limiting my internal and external distractions: putting the phone down and books away, resisting the urge to mindlessly scroll through screens of other people’s lives. It’s about waking up to live rather than just to do. It’s about calming my mind and stopping myself from the mental to-do lists, the incessant worries, the getting lost in “should have”s and “what if”s. Stillness is about the ability to become comfortable with uncertainty, the discomfort of limbo, and the difficult emotions — to be able to sit alone in a room with the fullness of your being. I’ve learned that we get so distracted by tasks, material possessions, other people’s opinions and expectations, and unnecessary conflict that we get pulled away from all of the things that are important in our lives. We get so distracted that we are no longer present in the moment in which we are living in.
I have a habit of coloring stillness as missed time, a lack of motivation, or laziness, and what I’m learning is that stillness is not stagnation. Stillness is about slowing down so you don’t miss out on where you are going. And so I sit, or I stand, or I walk. Without having something to do or somewhere to be. Stillness is about breathing and it’s about being — it’s as difficult and simple as that. I let my mind wander without becoming too attached to thoughts, recollections, or fleeting ideas. I’ve been trying to make time in my day to pause; letting go of unnecessary details or interactions, distancing myself from mindless distractions, and reflecting on what it is that I am doing and why it is that I am doing it. It’s by slowing down that we can become energized and opened up to all of life’s possibilities.
I lost presence.
When you are focused on nostalgia — or of moments passed and doors that have long been closed — or when you live in the future — of all the things you’ll do, the person you’ll be, of all the potential situations you cast yourself in — you rob yourself of the life that you are actually living. Life in the present. I began to notice all of the ways I was unintentionally escaping from and missing out on the only thing I am guaranteed: right now. I noticed that I wasn’t fully enjoying or appreciating where I was because I’ve been so focused on the next place I needed to be. The result was a lack of appreciation and gratitude for my experiences, it was apathy towards how wonderful and magical our moments really are. It was taking encounters and interactions as something I had to do versus something I have the opportunity to enjoy. And I’ve found that a lack of presence is about forgetting that this is all we have. This life is the one we get.
I’ve been practicing presence in simple ways like putting my phone away when having conversations with friends, in really listening to what others have to say and how they feel when they say it. In breathing deeply and through not trying to escape the moment I’m in by distracting myself. I try and do just one thing at a time. Wherever I am, I choose to be all there and I remain very conscious of that decision. I slow down when I’m eating so I can savor the flavor, I try and walk slower so I can see all of the beauty, and I try not to rush. I do my best to not wish my days away — to trust in the process and appreciate the steps it takes to get there. Because what I know is that I’d hate to reach the destination to find that I’d missed out on the journey.
I believe that presence with ourselves and when we are with others deepens our connections. It improves our relationships and fosters greater understanding of our actions. It encourages self-understanding so that we may grow, change, and improve. And when we are truly present with our friends, children, family, and all of the people whose lives we may touch, we have the ability to positively shape and impact who they become.
I think of acceptance like the tide coming in. The waves roll into the sand and the ocean takes them back. Like each passing moment we experience, the waves rhythmically come and they go. Acceptance is allowing things to be as they are without adding on a filter of how we hoped they would be. It removes the expectation, the disappointment, and the longing. And when your acceptance is like the waves, you don’t get too attached to emotions, objects, thoughts, or other things — knowing that each will return to the ocean; that they are all impermanent. Acceptance is understanding that all things — good or bad — will wax and wane, that emotions and situations are fleeting.
And when we cultivate acceptance into our lives we can allow things to happen without passing judgment — without labeling something as good or bad, positive or negative, but rather, taking things as they come. And in this way we can react to situations as they are presented to us, rather than based off of every past encounter we’ve had. We can respond to challenges and frustrations more compassionately and they can have less of an impact on the flow of our day. Through acceptance we allow things to be as they are and we see them as they are, which allows us to react as we are — with compassion, kindness, humility, patience, and grace.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever received is, “whatever comes your way — whatever the situation, be for it.” I’ll start off by saying that this doesn’t necessarily work in every situation or circumstance. Some of life’s events are too painful, horrific, or devastating to readily accept, much less be on the same side as. But as for the day-to-day frustrations, challenges, and bumps in the road, being “for it” has allowed me to accept the challenge and focus on the solution. It has allowed me to remove the negative energy and emotions I attach to events and rather, just deal with the situation as it is. A flat tire, a bad day, or a string of small annoyances all at once — by being for the situation I only have to accept the challenge at hand, instead of my reaction to it— if that makes any sense.
And so I’m learning to embrace whatever it is that comes, to surrender to the present moment. I’m learning to let the tide roll in and the waves crash down without trying to change them.
The ocean is beautiful just as it is, you know.
And because forward movement is important to me, part of what I’ve lost in my busyness and have been looking for in stillness is intentionality. When being intentional, you recognize that your time is both limited and abundant. You decide how you want to spend it rather than wondering where it has gone. For me, intentionality is realizing that we have time for the things that we make time for. And being intentional is about using your energy, talents, and time with focus so that your strengths can be offered to others in a way that fulfills your passion.
You decide what you want to cultivate, who you want to become, and what you hope to accomplish. You are specific so that your actions match your goals. During the past few months I allowed my focus on household chores and work tasks to prevent me from developing the areas of my life that I’m most committed to. Realizing that my constant doing was not moving me forward, I began to notice the ways in which I wasting the valuable time that I have. I recognized my excuses and the distractions that were preventing me from accomplishing what it is that I’ve set out to do. And so I sat down and prioritized different areas of my life and various goals that I want to be working on. Characteristically, I made out lists and schedules and developed a new rhythm. I structured my time in ways that allow me both to focus on my goals without taking away from the spontaneity of living freely. It’s been a process.
And when we are intentional, we have the ability to use our lives for our individual missions and purposes. We can develop ourselves so that we may see our goals, ideas, and dreams through to the end. And when you make the best use of your time and thus, your life, you may inadvertently teach and inspire others to do the same.
You don’t have time to stop when you’re too busy, which means you probably aren’t taking the time to notice and appreciate the magic around you. You forget that you’re grateful to be employed, to have a steady income, to be able to breathe air into your lungs, and to have the ability to move. You forget to be grateful for all of your child’s questions and sense of wonder — evidence that he/she’s able to learn and grow. Without gratitude, you lose fulfillment, joy, happiness, and a sense of meaning. In my constant rush from one task to the next, my focus quickly shifted from all that I have to all of the things I had left to do, how tired I was, how under appreciated I felt. I focused on the frustrations, the rain clouds, and the negative. It left me feeling rushed, anxious, tired, irritable, and frustrated. And what I know about myself is when I am feeling this way it’s generally because my priorities and focuses are off balance. And when you are not in the habit of focusing on all that you are grateful for, doing so can require a conscious shift in thinking and focus. I believe that gratitude is a choice in perspective — what you decide to look for and what you see. It’s about contentment and appreciation. And so with every complaint I attempted to speak, I now stop and try to find the good first. Through slowing down I’ve been able to choose to focus on the light, the positive, and all of the reasons I have to be eternally grateful. They are there for you too, I promise.
And so today, be open to all of the goodness, blessings, and sunshine that come your way.
It’s not just another day.
It’s the only day that you have right now.
This moment is our only guarantee.
And so here I am, trying to find a balance between the stillness of doing nothing and the intentionality of doing everything.
Here I am, learning how to respond as if it were both the first day and very last day that I’ll ever know.