How to Give Yourself ‘the Present’ This Year
Author: Kent Thune
Which is worse – having no presents or having no presence?
December is a unique time of year in that it is one of both reflection and of looking forward. We recall traditions, friends, and family and we look back on the year that has nearly passed. We also look to the coming year and think of ways we can turn another page to a happier, more productive chapter in our lives. And in the midst of this reflection and looking forward, we bury ourselves with the hustle and bustle of holiday activities.
Ironically, much of what we do this time of year has the effect of removing us from the present moment, which is where life is happening. While you are in the kitchen preparing a meal, what priceless moment might you miss in the living room? What would your friends or loved ones think or feel if they knew you felt incredible stress trying to find that perfect gift that means less to them than your happiness, your presence?
You might be able to summarize your total holiday season with one word: survival. But if you think about it, surviving is not living, is it? You cannot win at the game of life if you are not participating in it. You must be present to win! So let’s dig a bit deeper into this thing we call presence.
Put simply, during any given moment of life, you are either present to yourself or you are absent from yourself. There is no other state of being. One cannot be almost present, just as one cannot be almost alive. For example, if your mind is somewhere else, or if you are caught in routine, you are not present—you are “not here.” You have no presence.
Not only is presence crucial for your own well-being, but it is impossible to give the best of yourself to others if you are somewhere else when in their presence. When speaking with a friend or loved one at a holiday gathering, do you find yourself drifting away to your incomplete dinner plans or unfinished lists of things to do? If so, you are neither giving yourself the present, nor are you giving your friend or loved one your presence.
But isn’t it normal to want things to look forward to? Yes, looking to the future for happiness is completely normal. In fact it is not humanly possible to completely remove thoughts of the future without removing the frontal lobes of our brains. But normal isn’t always healthy.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” Too often we look forward to the end of the day, the end of the week, the vacations, the better job, the retirement, and so on. And if the future does not appear bright, we may choose to dwell in the past, where we can recall instances of happiness. Again, dear reader, living for tomorrow and dwelling in the past will keep you from the only place where life is happening: the present moment.
So how does one maintain presence? How can you do a better job of giving yourself the present this holiday season? Here are a handful of presents to give yourself this year:
Be awake. Allow your senses to take in the life that is happening around you. See with your eyes the beauty in the lights, the decorations, and the smiling faces. Smell with your nose the wonderful aromas of cooking food, the spiced tea, the pine trees, the candles, or the wood burning in the fire. Listen with your ears to the sounds of life—of people talking, music playing, and even the cars in traffic. Touch with your hands the soft winter clothing, the warm cup, and the shoulder of a friend in conversation. Taste with your tongue the unique flavors of the season and enjoy each bite of food by eating more slowly and by remaining conscious of the flavors.
Be mindful. Catch yourself slipping away from the present and bring yourself back before losing the moment. Observe the wind blowing in a tree and watch the movement of the branches and leaves. Remain aware of your footsteps, your breathing, and your thoughts. Mindfully put down the camera (or whatever device you use to take pictures) so you will not, ironically, miss the experience you are trying to capture.
Be amazed. Everything can be amazing: life, love, a sunset, modern technology, or anything that you experience, even if you have already seen it or felt it a thousand times. If you’ve forgotten how to be amazed, spend time with younger people. Laugh out loud with a child and see the world through their eyes.
Be quiet. Find a moment to observe silence, both of auditory sounds and the silence of the inner voice. Find a focal point, such as a flickering flame of a candle or a burning ember in in the fireplace, and allow you thoughts and daily worries to fade away without you forcing them out. If your thoughts drift to the past or future, gently guide them back to the present, where no thinking is necessary.
Be present. A quote from Buddha says, “As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life.” To live fully, be present to yourself by remembering the lessons you learned here. But also be present to others. When in conversation, try listening instead of speaking. Greet a stranger with a smile. Make eye contact with a loved one and hold your gaze just a little longer than usual.
Most of all, remember to give yourself the present this year. But don’t stop there. Give to others the gift of your presence. And make it a tradition.
Kent Thune is a money manager and the owner of a Hilton Head Island investment advisory firm, Atlantic Capital Investments. He is also a free-lance writer and is currently working on a book to be published in 2016. You can follow his musings on mind, money and mastery of life at TheFinancialPhilosopher.com or follow him on Twitter @ThinkersQuill.