Being Present

MMS 02202017A woman once said to me, “Aren’t you so lonely when you travel alone? I would desperately miss my family. I would absolutely hate sleeping, eating, and traveling by myself. I don’t know how you do it.” Thank goodness, most of the time, there is a filter between what I think and what actually comes out of my mouth. At the time, I had two rowdy, highly challenging teenage boys at home, and I distinctly remember thinking, “Oh yeah. It’s awful. Horrible beyond words, really… all those long, hot baths that no one interrupts because they need something. All that room service where I order only what I like along with a glass of wine or two, accompanied by a chick flick that no one else will watch without complaining or reading a great book in the comfort of a King-size bed where I can arrange the pillows in any configuration I please. It’s really dreadful.” 

What I actually said was, “Well, one does what one has to do,” or something to that effect. Like I said, thank goodness for the filter. The truth is it does get lonely on the road sometimes, especially on nights like tonight. It’s Valentine’s evening and I’m on the road, sitting in a quiet hotel bar, writing my Monday Morning Stretch because, well, there’s nothing else to do. This is the sometimes sad life of a speaker/trainer. Not all wine and roses but like most things in life, it’s not all bad either. These days I can pretty much stay connected in ways I couldn’t have done just a few years ago. 

But whether I’m traveling or at home, I have a love/hate relationship with my cell phone, laptop, and all that comes with them… social media, Internet, email. Even though I may only see them occasionally, I love that I’m more connected than I’ve ever been with colleagues and friends that live all over the world. I love that I can get my pre-measured, ready-to-cook meals each week delivered to my door along with most of my clothes, shoes, gifts, office supplies, and prescriptions – all next-day delivery via our amazing Amazon Prime. I love that I can Skype with my sons in Texas and virtually attend a client meeting in Canada… in my slippers. I love that I can text love notes to my husband when I’m on the road to let him know that he’s on my mind if not in my sight. And of course, my business could not run without email, websites, digital marketing, and online learning. 

However… as I write this (on my laptop, just to be transparent), I’m looking at no less than 10 people sitting in this bar, all staring at and scrolling through their cell phones. There is one gal engrossed in a honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned paperback book but otherwise… all digital and all disconnected to the real live humans around them. Eerily quiet, not one person is speaking to another or even to the bartender who is also in the corner on his cell phone. No one spoke to me on the plane ride here, hardly anyone looked at me in the airport, and tomorrow when I take a break at my client retreat, my experience tells me that everyone will run for their cell phones … including me. 

So, good or bad? I don’t know. I don’t want to be that old curmudgeon who, generation after generation, claims the world is upside down and going to hell in a handbag when in fact it’s just evolving. But I do think we did things differently when we weren’t so constantly connected to the world at large and disconnected from the smaller world in front of us. Our kids did learn to entertain themselves, enjoy the beauty of nature, strengthen their imagination muscle, manage boredom, experience stillness, presence, and mindfulness… and, maybe the most important, learn true conversation, consideration, and thoughtful debate skills with others. Into our adulthood, we continue refining the same skills when we weren’t constantly digitally connected. I think we’ve grossly underestimated the value of being still and quiet. Sometimes, I wonder if we’ve become so unaccustomed to it that we are, in some way, a little frightened by what we might actually hear in the silence… when in fact, that is the truest of true messages. 

So, I’ve made a commitment to some small ways I can balance it all a little better. Tom and I are getting up 30 minutes earlier each morning to read together, meditate and pray, and start our day a little more connected to each other’s goals and desires. We’ve also created a true quitting time for our home-grown businesses so that we can turn off the electronics and professional demands and turn on some music and make our ready-to-cook, mail-order Hello Fresh dinners together while we talk about our day, our accomplishments, and whatever lessons the day has handed us. I’ll take my exercise alone so I can listen to my own heart and practice the ever-useful skill of mindfulness. And one night a week, we’ve committed to having dinner somewhere completely disconnected… no cell phones, no laptops, no TV- just good old conversations with each other and, maybe more importantly with friends, family, and the interesting, sometimes lonely, strangers all around us. And lastly, I promise to at least say hello and make eye contact with the people in my personal orbit when I go about my daily business… instead of never looking up and acknowledging they’re there. 

In the time in the middle, Tom and I will be stuck to our laptops and on our phones as much as anyone, I’m sure. But it’s good to find balance where we can and not to believe that anything we could write on Facebook or in a text could ever replace a personal conversation, hand-written note, book read with a child, meal shared with a friend, or just the quietness of staring at the stars with your lover. The video below, posted recently by my colleague, Jane Atkinson, perfectly demonstrates in the most beautiful way the power that we all have to put down our technology and connect with intention to the present moment and the real, live humanity right in front of us.

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“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think
that’s what 
we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an
experience of being alive.” 
~~ Joseph Campbell

 

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