When my son was born, I was given lots of advice. One suggestion I remember distinctly was, “stay present.” I blew the comment off, at the time, thinking, “Well, of course.” But it’s so easy to be physically present and mentally elsewhere.
When you read, read. When you exercise, exercise. When you work, work. A practice that’s so simple, yet so hard to do. I’m never doing or thinking about just one thing. When I’m with my young son, I’m thinking about the next time he needs to eat or sleep, or something I need to do. Instead of sleeping, I think about things I’m worried about. I’m often preoccupied, wondering how I could have handled something better. In summary, I’m terrible at being present. And it’s the root of a lot of suffering.
I was told long ago that there is only suffering when we’re not present. If we’re worried about the past or the future, we’re elsewhere. Be in the here and now, and there is nothing to worry about. I just wish it wasn’t so hard to do.
I’m working at this ‘being present’ thing, and there are a few things that I find help. I hope they help you too.
- Don’t carry your phone with you all the time. I don’t carry my phone with me when I’m with my son. That time is ours. The phone is a distraction for both of us.
- Set an alarm (on your hidden phone) 10 minutes before something needs to end. I set an alarm on my phone, which is away or face down, 10 minutes before I need to leave lunch, etc. with a friend. That ensures I’m on time for my next commitment and focused on the conversation versus being concerned about being late.
- Deal with what is weighing on you. If you’re worried about your finances, health, or a deadline, act. Ask for help. Do something to move closer to your goal.
- Have a conversation you know you need to have. If there is something left unsaid and it’s weighing on you, pick up the phone and speak up.
- Don’t over commit. Over committing is sure way to be stressed, unhappy, and not present.
Lots of people set New Year’s goals or resolutions. Mine is simple. I want to worry less and enjoy more. I want to live in the present.
I had my first baby in September. He’s amazing and every day I’m more and more grateful for him. And I hate when he cries. And as we all know, babies cry. A lot.
Soon after my son was born, I found myself suffering when he cried and working hard to get him to stop. One day while he was crying, I realized that if I wanted to enjoy my time with him I needed to not only but accept, but embrace his crying. He was supposed to be crying. This is how things were supposed to be, or they’d be another way. And in that moment, I was able to stop resisting his crying and just be with him.
I still hate to hear my son cry and I do everything I can to make him stop, but I suffer less. Babies cry. This is how life looks when it’s working. I need to accept things as they are and go with the flow. As a Type-A, perfectionist, this is hard for me to do. I want things to be a certain way, aka perfect.
When your flight gets delayed, there’s traffic when you’re in a rush, or someone doesn’t give you the information you need to finish a project on time, it’s very easy and natural to get upset and think, “There’s something wrong here.” But perhaps there is nothing wrong. Perhaps this is what happens when life’s working. It’s just another way to look at things. Accept things as they are. Go with the flow.
This isn’t any easy concept to live by all the time. Breakdowns happen. People disappoint. We do dumb stuff that has negative consequences. It’s really easy to get upset and you’re allowed to do so. It’s normal and natural. But getting upset also reduces your happiness and satisfaction. And given how much stuff goes wrong, if we get upset each time, for a long time, we’re going to be unhappy a lot of the time.
Here’s a practice to try: When something frustrating happens, say to yourself, “I guess this is what happens when life’s working.” You might need to say it a few times. Repeating this phrase might make it easy to accept things as they are and go with the flow.
In the past few weeks, my new car got hit and was totaled. The nanny I hired quit the day before I went back to work, but not before getting both me and my son sick. These are really annoying and upsetting things, and I got upset. I also told myself, several times, “This is what happens when life’s working.” It helped. I need to accept things as they are and go with the flow. That said, I also made changes.
I now work hard not to cross streets where there is not a light – how our car got hit. And I’m being more careful and slower in hiring the next nanny. But I’m suffering less.
P.S. Thank you for the many good wishes regarding Gray’s birth. I didn’t tell many people I was pregnant for a long time and was overwhelmed by the positive response. It took me three years and many, many arduous fertility treatments to have Gray. It was hard, expensive, and emotionally draining. Maybe that’s what life looks like when it’s working.