Learning to live in the present and appreciate the now is not as easy as it sounds. We live in a culture that is performance and success obsessed, causing many of us to be hyper-focused on the end product and the proverbial destination instead of the journey.
Even though we know our deepest happiness comes from relationships and a sense of belonging, many of us still get caught in the trap of overlooking the most important things in our lives (our loved ones) for the less important things of “progress”.
In the past, I’ve described myself as a frustrated perfectionist who is constantly vacillating between my desire to get things done and my desire to enjoy the moment before it’s gone. These are the things that have helped me (at times) to do just that:
It’s so easy to say, and yet so hard to do. All the information the world has to offer is literally at our fingertips while we sit in the carpool lane. We’ve become information addicts. Personally, I love my iPhone. It’s the hardest working tool in the house since it holds all my contacts, email, to-do lists, and calendars, but it often feels like my task master. (And then there’s my laptop . . .)
We are the first generation of mothers to have to deal with this kind of distraction and information overload at every waking moment of the day, and we have the responsibility to make peace with it and learn how to find a reasonable balance so we don’t lose sight of the living breathing people right in front us.
Isn’t it ironic that our families can supply the connection we are often seeking on those darn screens? From Facebook to Pinterest to Mommy Blogs, it’s easy to be more tuned in to other people’s lives than our own. I recently wrote a post about why I stopped reading Mommy Blogs about two years ago, and I limit my time on Facebook and Pinterest for the same reasons. (Unfortunately, Instagram has now taken over my life, so that’s the next battlefield.)
I really appreciated the policy at a preschool one of my children attended. They requested cell phones be left in the car when dropping off and picking up children so parents could give them their full attention. That wouldn’t be a bad personal policy to have at certain times of the day as well. I like the idea of designating specific times to unplug. We’ve had pretty good success with “Screen Free Sundays” at our house, and I’ve even considered leaving the house without my phone sometime in the near future. (Gasp!) Again, I think it’s kind of funny that we have to unplug in order to reconnect.
(2) Set aside the to-do list
This is a very similar point, but where unplugging is about putting down the phone or the laptop, setting aside the to-do list is about putting down the vacuum or the bills. Just like there is no end to the information on the Internet, there is no end to the work demanded by our homes and our jobs. As someone once said, “There’s no such thing as done.” When put that way, it seems ridiculous to think we will stop and enjoy our lives and our families when x, y, and z gets done, because it never will!
The thing to remember about setting aside the to-do list is that it is as much for you as it is for them. Don’t grudgingly put down the laundry basket to read a book to your begging toddler while still thinking about everything you have to do. If you’re going to stop and read a book to your child anyway, take a deep breath and enjoy it for crying out loud! It will do wonders for you as well as them.
(3) Freeze time
Every mother has said at one time or another that she would like to freeze time. In a brilliant essay titled Don’t Carpe Diem from blogger Glennon Melton, she explains that there are two different kinds of time, and one of those is a sort of “frozen” time in which we can capture the golden moments:
Chronos time is what we live in. It’s regular time, it’s one minute at a time, it’s staring down the clock till bedtime time, it’s ten excruciating minutes in the Target line time, it’s four screaming minutes in time out time, it’s two hours till daddy gets home time. Chronos is the hard, slow passing time we parents often live in. Then there’s Kairos time. Kairos is God’s time. It’s time outside of time. It’s metaphysical time. It’s those magical moments in which time stands still. I have a few of those moments each day. And I cherish them.
The thing is, children are quite naturally living in the present, so ‘freezing time” happens when we simply stop to be with them where they are. It’s one of the easiest ways to appreciate the now. These are the moments when you notice the shape of your baby’s lips while they’re sleeping, or how your toddler’s chubby little hand feels in yours, or how your teenage son looks while laughing his head off. Making a daily conscious effort to freeze those moments in your mind and in your heart is like a mid-day salve for the work-weary soul.
(4) Write it down
Anaïs Nin said, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Writing down memorable moments of all kinds is much like keeping a gratitude journal. I’ve never thought of my blog as a gratitude journal, but that’s exactly what it has become. When I record all the best and the worst moments in my family’s life, I start to see the beauty in all of it.
The process of writing things down is like creating a filter for the good and the beautiful to come through. The wonderful thing about recording memories is that you don’t have to be a quasi-professional photographer or have a super put together blog in order to reap the benefits. I have yet to create a single baby book for any of my four children, I often write things down on the back of bank receipts, and many of my memories are held in the “voice memo” app on my phone. Just get it down! I really do think it’s more about taking the moment to write it down than it is about the final product. Just do it and worry about the specifics later.
(5) Treasure the doing
After all this talk about unplugging, setting aside the to-do list, and freezing time, the reality is that none of us can realistically expect to have lots of slow, uninterrupted time with our loved ones to interact in fun and meaningful ways. Life is busy and demanding. Some days are just absolutely crazy busy even if you’ve done your best to simplify and organize your time. And in those moments and on those days, I try to remember something that the popular author and speaker Anna Quindlen once said: “I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.” I love the idea of connecting with our loved ones “on the job” so to speak. I said at the beginning that I am constantly vacillating between my desire to get things done and my desire to have time to relax and enjoy the moment before it’s gone, but the truth is, I probably just need to learn how to treasure the doing with my loved ones a little bit more.
Learning to live in the present and appreciate the now is a little bit of mindfulness and whole lot of practice. Yes, it takes effort, but what little effort we put in will come back to us tenfold and bless us as well as our families. (And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to shut down my laptop and go live my life.)
Click on the image below to watch Allyson’s recent 8-minute TV appearance where she addresses the points in this article (once the video page loads, click on the video on the right):
Originally posted on April 8, 2013.