Awareness (Or a Lack of) and Being Present

By Karen Beals | April 05, 2017

When was the last time you were truly present to your life?

Or if I bring it down a notch, when was the last time you were simply present for dinner? Or present for a conversation with a family member?

I have moments of being present….but I have a long way to go in being present to my life. The last time I was truly present to my life was when my hubby and I drove across country for our move to Southern California last June. We took a 12-day vacation on our drive and it was glorious! I let go of work, the things on my ‘should to, have to, ought to’ list and just enjoyed every moment – I didn’t want it to end. I ask myself what it was that allowed me to be present? I’m not sure other than I was embarking on a new chapter in my life and I wanted to seize every moment.

Do you have a dog? We had a wonderful, loveable lab, Lily. We lost her a few months after moving to California. Dogs illustrate what it truly means to ‘be present’ or to ‘live in the moment.’

She was ALWAYS happy to see me! She had this fun way of greeting us while furiously wagging her tail and verbally groaning. In fact, she was always happy (save when she would rest her head on my thigh guilting me with those sad brown eyes to give her a morsel of food off of my plate. I inevitably gave in). We would walk her every day through the same park and one would think it was the first time she had visited the area.

You will hear us teach at the Radical Leadership retreats about “Awareness” and “Levels 1, 2 and 3” attention levels. (After I share an example of how I was NOT present you might wonder exactly WHY I am teaching the retreats!) I tell on myself because the journey we are on is just that: a JOURNEY. It’s not a race to see who will get there first or who can do it best. It’s about being vulnerable, curious and learning from each other. (A sense of humor also helps.)

So a couple of weeks ago my daughter flew out to visit me while on her Spring break. One evening, I went to hear a speaker while she spent time with her cousins and aunts. We all decided we would meet up at “In N Out” for a burger after the speaker. I texted my sister-in-law and told her I would be there in about ten minutes. I arrived and noticed that there was a group of young people at a table so decided to sit and hold a table that was about 5 feet away from them. I threw my coat over some of the chairs to hold the space and then texted my sister-in-law “I’m here.”

Through my peripheral vision I noticed there was this creepy guy in a flannel jacket and cap standing near my table. I tried to ignore him and kept my nose buried in my phone. He seemed to move closer and I buried deeper into my phone wondering why in the world my family hadn’t yet arrived and really wanting this ‘creepy guy’ to disappear. Then I heard a bunch of laughing and my daughter LOUDLY shouting “MOM!!! We have been here the WHOLE time watching you. You looked RIGHT at me as you walked in.” (They were the group I first noticed.) Oh…the creepy guy? My WONDERFUL brother-in-law, John Fankhauser, whom I ADORE and who was one of the primary physicians at the heart of the EBOLA crisis in Liberia last year. He treated Dr. Kent Brantley, the American doctor who made the news when he was evacuated from Liberia to Emory Hospital in Atlanta. John was very much instrumental in saving Dr. Brantley’s life when he was in Liberia. And here I am thinking he’s this “creepy guy”. (He was having fun and trying to get my attention at the burger place…and, of course, I was CLUELESS! Told him I never saw him in flannel. Yes. That’s it.).

After joining the gang, I said “Oh, I can’t wait to share this with Matthew and Don (you know, those other two coaches)…they are going to have a field day with this.” This was a beautiful example of my not being present. What would it have looked like had I been present and ‘aware of my surroundings?’ Since being present starts with my senses, I might have noticed the cool, crisp air as I got out of my car. Or I would have noticed the twinkling stars against the dark night sky. When I walked into the restaurant, I might have salivated at the smell of burgers and grilled onions on the grill. I might have heard the laughter of my FAMILY FIVE FEET AWAY. I might have noticed the red and white tile on the floor. I might have gotten my nose OUT of my phone and focused on THE moment.

This is a lesson for me in SLOWING down and physically noticing what’s going on around me and what I am feeling or sensing. For example, feeling the chair beneath me or even that irritating tag on my shirt. SLOWING down. I was at the dentist last week and as I was spitting out the rinse into the sink I hit my forehead onto the faucet. WHAT THE HECK? SLOW DOWN. EXPERIENCE THE MOMENT.

What do you need to start being present to your life? What about starting with that conversation with your partner? Or playing in the dirt with your kids? Or listening for what your teen is NOT saying? Or noticing when your co-worker is having a bad day? What does being present mean to YOU and how can you start cultivating it?

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