I promised myself to never use a cheesy headline… clearly I have my weaknesses.
Corny sayings like this remind me of my nephew Kyle. At 3 years-old, he’s my perfect testing ground for all the cheese-tastic jokes that are brewing inside me. Over time though, I’ve noticed something quite peculiar – sometimes the joke passes the test, and other times the same one crashes and burns.
The more I thought about Kyle’s ‘ability’ to treat the same joke as a new joke every time he hears it, the more I’ve learned about the concept of presence. Kyle, like many kids, always seems to operate in the present moment. That’s not to say he doesn’t comprehend the idea of a past and future, but rather his expression of both is always here and now.
Instead of boring you (and confusing myself) with a ramble of words trying to describe what he’s taught me about presence, let’s break down into a good ol’ Christmas List…
- He knows about yesterday and tomorrow, but expresses it all today – The other day I had the pleasure of babysitting Mr. Kyle. We decided instead of him sleeping alone upstairs we’d share the guest room bed. Besides his flailing arms that nearly TKO’d me throughout the night, I remained unscathed and he remained unsquished.First thing in the morning, he sits up, looks at me and begins to cry bitterly “I didn’t get my gingerbread cookie last night!!” Clearly the kid loves his cookies, but what was most amazing is how in that very moment, close to 8 hours later, his recollection of a missed cookie didn’t remain a regret in his head but a full expression of himself.As adults, not only do we become even more conditioned by the past and expecting of the future, but we bottle it up in our minds and try to outthink it. We develop all sorts of anger, hared and judgement at others because they didn’t give us our ‘gingerbread cookie’ instead of just being clear at how it makes us feel. Kyle could have easily created the idea that “Uncle Ryan is a cookie monster” (get it! #Huzzah) and thus could have decided he was going to be miserable with me for the rest of the morning and spite me when he leaves my supervision at daycare, but instead he got out what was bugging him and we had a great rest of the morning!I think the biggest misconception with being present is that we believe it means we need to try and ignore the past/future. “Stay present” we tell ourselves as misguided debates about the future and the past crash against the door with furious power. I’ve come to realize the it’s actually the opposite – it’s about going through the emotions it’s given us and communicating with others the impact. Once there is no longer any mystery to the past/future, it fails to keep us pre-occupied with trying to ‘figure out’ the right story surrounding it.This Christmas, instead of viewing your family and friends through your assumed musings of who they are, really try to get to know them. If the opportunity presents itself, bring up past moments you’ve been holding onto and discuss it respectfully in this moment. You don’t have to throw a tantrum per se, just remain vulnerable and empathetic as you share what’s been clouding your mind.
- He doesn’t cling to his emotional state – While he was clearly upset by this cookie dilemma, after I gently worked with him to understand what happened, it’s like the cookie attachment magically disappeared. We never talked about it for the rest of the morning and he didn’t give me any attitude from then on in. While he gave himself the permission to express his frustration, he also gave himself the permission to move on from it.As adults, think about how much we pick an emotion to express and then do whatever it takes to justify why that emotion needs to remain. We are relentless in staying mad, upset, sad, angry, and frustrated, no matter how much we are given the opportunity to discuss things. I believe we do this more as adults because we are more addicted to protecting our ego and maintaining a consistent reputation than kids care to do.This Christmas, try to work on giving yourself permission to move on from emotions after you express them. Share how you feel and then allow new feelings to emerge. If you ego battles this transition, use the power of communication to guide you through. Explain to the other person that you are struggling to feel different and allow them to become part of your journey in moving through the emotions.
- He always looks for what typically goes unseen – I’m always amazed when Kyle brings light to something I would have never taken the time to consider. He’ll stop and admire a leaf, point out a footprint embedded in the sidewalk or point randomly to god knows what. For him, it’s not that the present moment is always exciting, it’s that he always makes the effort to make it exciting.As adults, the idea of being present can be boring. Our past memories of what was or what we once had, in addition to future expectations of what could be or could have, can be far more shinier a toy than anything surrounding us in a moment. The temptation of our imagination is far too powerful to take us ‘away’. With everything probing to get our attention these days, it’s becoming much more difficult to make the present something worth spending time in.This Christmas, try to take on the eyes of Kyle or a child in your life. Look around and observe things that you might have taken for granted and or unconsciously left in the ‘background’. When you look at an object, explore it’s colours, design, and how people are interacting with it. When you look at a person, get to know observe their posture, reactions, mannerisms without any inherent judgement. Just look for the beauty in each of their characteristics for he characteristic itself as being unique to them. If what I wrote doesn’t resonate, think of something that would make the present just as tantalizing as the past and future. The road to do regularly doing this will be rocky, but with every moment you spend present, the more familiar the experience becomes and the easier it will be to access.