Sunday, February 21, 2016

Staying Present

I started reading the Sunday edition of The New York Times when I was in sixth grade. At the time, my family lived in a rural Pennsylvania town about 100 miles east of Pittsburgh. Many Sundays after church, we stopped at the "general store" where I purchased The New York Times for fifty cents along with a packet of five baseball cards and bubble gum for a nickel.

Reading the paper took most of the afternoon and connected me with vocabulary and thoughts that were beyond my provincial perspective.

Last Christmas, I received a year-long subscription to the Sunday Times which I still enjoy, from my daughter, Anna. I have my favorite sections and features, one of which is "Business." A column inside the front page, "Corner Office," is at the top of my list. Each week, male and female CEO's are interviewed. Many of them are women under 40 whose successful careers often began in start-up ventures.

The CEO's are often asked to give advice to others in the field or to recent college graduates. They also share questions used to interview potential employees - these can range from describing a person's background, what mistakes have taught them, a personal project and outcome, and what they like to do in their free time.

On Sunday, December 20, 2015, the "Corner Office" interviewed Melanie Whelan, CEO of SoulCycle. When asked to give career and life advice to college graduates, she shared the following"

"Be present in the present. Don't worry so much about where you're going. Just focus on where you are and do the best work you can. The next thing will come."

I liked her emphasis on staying in the present for that is all we have in any given moment.

Staying Present - Grounded in the Moment

Staying present is a basic principle of mindfulness meditation and can assist in staying grounded in
what is going on in the moment. Being focused in the present helps us respond more appropriately and effectively to the people or events before us.

I struggle to stay present. I'm not the only one - many people struggle to stay present because what is happening in life distracts us from the here and now.

"I have so much to do. I can't get focused," we often say. Our minds get "cluttered" in many ways; we think about what we need to do during the day when we are asked to be silent in church. Our thoughts wander to others - to those we love, those who bother us - and interrupt our lives in ways we do not choose.

Sometimes memories from the past, pleasant or unpleasant, intrude and make staying present a challenge.

Staying present or mindful helps us live in the fullness of each moment, so everyone benefits from fighting the intrusions and tendency to drift. Due to my challenges, I've developed a few effective strategies to re-direct my wayward mind back into the moment.

Six Ways to Stay Present

1. Name the thought or emotion that comes and take a deep breath. These two techniques help dissipate the energy unwanted thoughts or feelings can bring enabling me to respond to what is happening.

2. Maintain strong eye contact when talking to someone. Focusing on a person's eyes helps attend to what they are saying.

3. Engage your senses by asking yourself: What are five things I see .....five things I hear.....five things I taste......five things I feel/touch ....five things I smell.

4. Count your steps as you walk.

5. When walking in the neighborhood, at the mall or in a store, outline with your eyes the buildings, displays, houses, mailboxes, tree trunks and other items you see.

6. Pray through a color. Choose a color at the beginning of the day. Be aware of places where you see that color and let it be a reminder of God's presence. Offer a prayer: "God thank you for being with me today."

Staying present can require a lot of work - especially as you are building a new habit. Be encouraged, however, and try this practice in small steps. Some days will be easier than others, but keep working on it. You don't need to reach a level of perfection each day - as you work to stay present you are achieving the goal.

Staying present increases awareness that we live and move in God's presence. Stay present to people and your surroundings may lead to surprises you wouldn't have experienced otherwise - all involving God.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for the variety of ways you reach us. Keep us alert -in the present, so we can always be attentive to your people and ourselves. Amen.

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