Practicing mindfulness and being present in the moment has become a fad. That is funny because being present in all of life was the norm before iPhones existed. At least compared to how we are today.
Technological Distractions: A Hurdle to Staying Present
Think about this: if we didn’t have iPhones or smartphones even now, our mindfulness would probably double, if not quadruple. People wouldn’t be checking their phones every 5 minutes. You couldn’t go to lunch with a group of people and all be scrolling on your devices as you half pay attention to each other in conversation, if you are even talking at all.
In business meetings, if no technology was allowed, the biggest distraction would be taking notes on your legal pad or someone knocking on the door to interrupt.
Technology has definitely made staying present really difficult. With technology, information and life moves at a fast forward speed.
Overcommitment: The Antithesis of Staying Present
Another reason it is so challenging to stay present is our overcommitment to way too much. We volunteer to help in the world. Our kids are involved in more activities after school. Our deadlines are shorter on everything, and jobs require more responsibility, tasks, and projects in less time.
I have a 20-minute commute to work. It is rare that I only drive to work and listen to a song or two. The first thing that goes through my mind is, did I forget anything? Then, I usually have one or two phone calls I am trying to cram in before my appointments begin right when I get to the office. I am running through my schedule to remember everything that needs to get accomplished for the day. Sometimes, I check my calendar, text, email, or the stock market at a red light. And although I take the same route and should be on autopilot, once in a blue moon, I miss a turn because I do not pay attention.
And this is just the first 20 minutes before I begin work.
Most of us have so much going on that it is hard to stay present as the next thing on the agenda is already consuming our thoughts.
Why Do We Choose Quantity Over Quality When We Commit Our Time?
And lastly, another impact of a mindful approach to life is that we have somehow chosen quantity over quality in how we spend our time. If what we spend our time on isn’t that engaging to begin with, it takes a herculean force of willpower to defend our time against the prompts of technology and the urgency of the next activity.
I confess that I thought I had one of those ADD minds. Concentration was lost after 30 seconds of meditation. Is this how God wired my brain, I wondered?
I started thinking it through, though, and am calling it “bull” on myself.
How do I know?
Quality Over Quantity: A Gateway to Being Present
The most significant sign that I don’t have an inattentive mind was the evidence when I prioritized quality over quantity with my time. Over the past several years, I have added many habits and practices to my world that take presence and focus. And guess what? I have no problem staying present. My short list:
• The daily sunrise. I literally leap out of bed to grab my coffee and make it outside as the colors start to bloom over the horizon. Sitting there, staring out into the fading darkness, I contemplate the beautiful artwork of our God. I don’t do anything. Well, sometimes I take a bunch of pictures. Which never does justice to the original. The full sun rising sometimes lasts 30 minutes. I can sit and watch nature arise with the sun.
• Journaling – I love to write to God. It is our time together, and I can stay focused and share my heart with the Lord for pages and pages. I don’t even notice my husband joining me on the porch.
• Art – I found a new hobby many years ago. I started painting my kid’s paint-by-numbers,
realizing I stopped worrying and couldn’t think about other things while concentrating on the colors and brushes. Soon, I graduated to learn watercolor and abstract acrylic painting. Now, I can spend 4-6 hours at a time completely absorbed in the practice. As a matter of fact, if I try to watch something else on a video or TV while painting, I can’t do both.
Rediscovering Staying Present Through Quality Time
I can stay fully present and focused when I consciously put quality activities into my day. My mind isn’t circulating all the other things I need to do during these activities. These activities also ground me for the rest of my life. They settle my mind. Maybe even a sort of cleansing as they remind me that a bunch of busyness doesn’t give me joy, connect me to God, or honor the people I am with.
The activities above don’t include people. That is because my work, which I love, is working with people in conversation all day, every day of the week. I would give myself a solid B+ score on staying present in counseling and coaching sessions. I am fully present with my clients….until I get overloaded. When my schedule is back-to-back, and I have gotten off track by 10 minutes, I know it is like a domino game. It will continue for the rest of the day, ten minutes late for each one.
I hate that, and it starts to press on my focus, worrying about disappointing the next client. This issue solidly points to the second issue above, too overcommitted. But that is within my control, too. I just let it get away from me.
Cultivating Mindfulness and the Art of Being Present
I share all of this to help you journey down the same self-reflection. Your quality time may differ from mine, just as your commitments may vary. However, suppose you take some time to determine how technology has impacted your mindfulness, evaluate your obligations and corresponding schedule, and purposefully add quality activities over quantity of activities into your schedule. In that case, I think you will find ways to become and stay more present in your life and with the people you love.