The Perfect Gift: Presence

Posted by: Jenny Everett King, CYT

“What did we ever do before cell phones?” How many times have you found yourself in that conversation? Do you get annoyed if the person you’re texting doesn’t get back to you for more than an hour? Or how about the terrible lack of control we feel if the internet is down for a day? We are a society who wants our information NOW. We don’t want to wait and we don’t want to wonder.

Communications technology has only grown in convenience in recent years. A few years ago, we could check email on our own computers at home. Now we can access a remote email server from any computer with an internet connection. Answering machines are thing of the past – now we dial in to our voicemail from any phone, be it a cell or a landline.

As the wife of a police officer, I am the first person to appreciate the fact that we can usually contact one another at any time of the day or night, from any location. As a working mother, I love that I can accomplish many office tasks from home. And as an impatient multi-tasker, I love that I can do it all right away, and all at once.

But as a yoga practitioner and teacher, I have to question some of the “advantages” technology has brought us.

I start each yoga class that I teach by reminding my students to be wholly present. “Presence” refers to both time and space. To be present means to not only let go of the past and the future, but to also let go of things happening currently, apart from you. In other words, forget about emails being sent while you are away from your computer, voicemails being left while your phone is off, television shows being broadcast even if you forgot to Tivo them.

In our culture, presence is no easy task. We just aren’t used to it. We might be able to do it in yoga for an hour or so – if we really, really try – but what about the rest of the time? There is a legendary saying of Buddha, quoted by therapist Mike George in 1001 Meditations, that goes, “As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life.”

Which brings me to my confession: One day last week, I breastfed my son while reading my email and paying bills online. An admirable act of multi-tasking, perhaps. But when he was finished, I realized that I had held my son for 15 minutes and barely looked into his eyes.

Granted, this example is an isolated incident and perhaps a little extreme. But have you ever found yourself in a similar situation – so caught up in the things you could put off for 15 minutes that you miss the more important things happening right now? I believe that this conflict has only grown with the advancements in technology. We can now “manage” all aspects of our lives (or at least attempt to) from nearly any location at any time of day. The temptation to continuously manage our lives is even greater at this time of year, when most of us have twice as many commitments.

As we approach the holiday season, my suggestion is this: Be present. As you eat Thanksgiving dinner and shop for gifts and decorate your home, as you drive to work and schedule your chiropractic appointment and squeeze in a few moments for a yoga practice, be where you are. Otherwise you may miss most of your holidays!