The Vital Importance of Learning to be Present

April 22, 2013 — Leave A Comment

presence

“Right now” is the only life you really have. Why not be here while it’s happening?

I remember when I was a boy summers seemed to last forever. Each day was like an eternity. My mother would often send me outside after breakfast and I wouldn’t be allowed back in ’till lunch, then out again till the streetlights came on. (It was a different time.) I remember how those hours stretched. A single day could hold a hundred adventures or more, and still leave time for me to linger at the back door for what seemed like years, waiting for my father to come home for dinner.

Now, as I’m approaching 50, time has taken to a sprint. The days often flash by as moments used to do. The weeks pass like days, the years like a single month. Time, it seems, is speeding up, more and more as each year passes.

Or is it me?

Often when clients come back from vacation we take a few minutes to explore what was beautiful about it or what experience was most meaningful for them. Inevitably they describe a kind of moment when time “seemed to stand still.” The activity doesn’t matter. Whether they were skiing on Lake Powell, hiking the Cascades, or sitting on a deck sipping coffee with their love, their descriptions of what made the experience special are almost always the same. “It was like time stopped. I was just there, without a thought of where I had been or where I would be later. I could have stayed there forever.” No doubt they’ll treasure those moments as some of the most significant in their lives.

What if the pace of time isn’t what actually changes in key moments like those? What if it’s our pace ~ our willingness to be present to what’s happening right here and now ~ that actually shifts?

I think the ability to be fully present to each moment of our lives is one of the keys to genuine joy. Think back for moment to one or two of the most meaningful memories you have. Maybe it was the day you got married. Or the birth of your first child. Or something else. Now, remember how absolutely present you were in that moment. How there was nothing else going on in your head ~ not past, not future, just the right here, and the right now. Remember?

How would your life be different if you could cultivate that kind of presence in all the moments of your life?

Leadership is a forward-focused job, and so naturally, leaders find their attention notoriously entrenched in the future ~ always thinking about what’s happening next, where they want to go after this. They’re rarely present. They’re either caught up in the past, reviewing what just happened, or plotting the course for what they want to happen next.

Sound familiar? Yeah. Me too.

But, honestly, I don’t think this is how Jesus showed up as a leader. It’s certainly not how he leads me. When he walked the earth, I think he was one of those guys who, when you talked with him, made you feel like you were the only person on the planet. I imagine his eyes had a way of seeing right through you, a way of breathing in the totality of who you are with a single look. In other words, I think he was present.

“The gift of presence is a rare and beautiful gift. To come unguarded, undistracted, and be fully present and fully engaged with the one whom we are with. Have you noticed in reading the Gospels that people enjoyed being around Jesus? They wanted to be near him ~ to share a meal, take a walk, have a lingering conversation. It was the gift of his presence. When you were with him, you felt he was offering you his heart. When we offer our unguarded presence, we live like Jesus. And we invite others to do the same.” ~ Stasi & John Eldredge

I wonder how much more powerful and effective our lives and leadership would be for God’s Kingdom if we purposed this year to master this one simple skill: Learn to be present.

If you want to discover how “being fully present” feels, here are a few practices I use with clients (and myself!) to help them cultivate more presence in their lives:

  • Be Still and Know. Spend 5 minutes of your time with God each day just being present to God’s presence with you. Focus on your breathing, and let go of thinking about anything. Just be with God.
  • Cultivate “Timeless Moments.” Each time you step outside, pause for 15 seconds and simple take everything in. Notice the sounds, the smells, and everything you see. Just be with the moment.
  • Slow down. One of the most powerful (and, surprisingly, difficult) practices I assign to clients is to simply practice walking throughout their day at about half their typical pace. If you can’t do it for a day, do it for a few hours (the first few hours of the day are best, as they set the pace for the rest). You’ll be amazed at how this simple practice impacts you ability to stay present to what’s going on in the here and now.
  • Give your full attention. Whenever you speak to anyone ~ anyone ~ throughout your day, practice giving them your full undivided attention. Set the papers aside, turn away from your desk, put the phone away, and face them. Don’t think about the 20 other things you need to be doing, or even what you’re going to say 10 seconds from now. Just be fully present to them, and see what happens.

Do you have other ideas for cultivating presence? I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Michael Warden

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3 responses to The Vital Importance of Learning to be Present

  1. Monica T Smith April 23, 2013 at 7:48 am

    Michael;

    Your post offers great food for thought. I spent 24 years in the retail industry where as a management and sales leader I was required to plan my business three to six months ahead. I have been out of the industry for six years and am now learning to live at a different pace, being more present instead of future-oriented. I am learning to live in that place of His “unforced rhythms of grace.”

    I love how you share that Jesus was present with each person He encountered and probably made them feel as if they were the only person around. I think the reason for this may be because He knew “the joy set before Him.” He knew where He was from and where he was headed, so He could savor every moment He spent on earth.

    Perhaps we should change our mindset to one of knowing the truth, that we are headed somewhere – heaven. Instead of focusing on striving for earthly achievement in the future, we can embrace our ultimate destination and be present now.

    Christ did all the necessary work. Let us simply enjoy what He has given us here.

    Monica

  2. Dear Michael,

    Thank you for sharing this valuable insight or should I say realization!
    The understanding, that moments spent in the here & now are perhaps the only part of life truly lived, makes so much more sense after reading your write up.

    God bless.

    Faryal

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