Thich Nhat Hanh – “The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.”
It was my cheerful seventy-five-pound Samoyed, Mika, that taught me about presence. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after she passed away that I figured it out. Throughout her life, my husband and I were living in Colorado and I was busy moving up the corporate ladder. Mika needed a lot of exercise, so the two of us would take long walks on beautiful Colorado trails. I was often distracted by my work and would barely remember where we had been when we returned to the car or the house. My lack of attention to her on our walks created enormous remorse for me when she died. I regretted that I had not been more present to our time together.
Dogs and our other animal friends can be amazing teachers of being in the moment, if we’re open to learning from them. They are wonderfully present. Mika was always right there with me when we were together, intent, focused, ready to play, run and protect. Had I been less distracted, I would have learned sooner how one benefits from this practice. And I would not only have created a richer connection with my four-legged buddy, but I would have added more richness to my life in general at an earlier age. Luckily, my regret turned into a lesson learned that inspired my journey into presence and mindfulness.
I think I first truly practiced presence while caring for my mother-in-law who was very sick with cancer. By this time, I had learned what it meant to be wholly there for another and so whenever I was with her, I practiced placing my full focus on her well-being, purposefully releasing the worry about all those other life matters that in light of her illness seemed very unimportant. What I learned, the thing that I had missed before, was that the gift was not just in being present for my mother-in-law. It was that I was fully awake to the experience, as painful as it was at times, and I was therefore able to enjoy and cherish our deep connection. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that. And thankfully, it prepared me well to care for my own parents when their times came.
Those we love can provide us the opportunity to practice presence whenever we’re with them. A student of mine recently mentioned that she wished she had been more present with her children, like she is now with her grandchildren. And my brother and I recently exchanged emails about his desire to practice and enjoy presence with his grown son as they explored South Dakota together on a 5-day father-son road trip. As I wrote in my previous post, practicing presence is a gift to give and a gift to receive.
With all the distractions we face every day, this practice may seem impossible. But I expect you’ll find that the more awareness you bring to your tendency to wander off in your mind while in a conversation or on a walk, the more you’ll learn to pull yourself fully back into the moment. Let’s forget about all those fancy gifts for our loved ones. Instead, let’s give them, and us, the precious gift of our pure presence. That goes for our animal friends, too!
Until Next time….
Mindfulness Exercise: Two suggestions for Practicing Presence.
1) If you’re alone, find something to place your full attention on. Focus on what you see, on what you hear, on what you feel. Try to activate all your senses as you bring yourself fully into the moment. This will help prepare you for when you’re with another person.
2) If you have an animal friend, mindfully spend time with them. Practice being totally present to them, whether they are sleeping or moving. If they are asleep, study them with full awareness. If awake, get curious about what they are curious about. Move at their pace. Rest when they rest. If you don’t have an animal friend, watch a bird; they provide a fantastic opportunity to practice.
With both exercises, if you find your mind wandering, remember to bring your awareness back to your breath to help you stay in the moment.
By Contributing Author, Heather Noto