December is a giving month, a time when many of us donate our money and our talents, when many of us celebrate by exchanging gifts. This December, I’m gifting myself presence. No, that’s not a typo.
I’m easily distracted, or at least I’ve allowed myself to become more distractible. So this month’s experiment is a mindfulness exercise, an intentional effort to be more aware of the moment and appreciate that feeling.
I remember two years ago my wife and I went to This Is The Place park’s Candlelight Christmas event, a nighttime stroll through a historic village decked out in old timey Christmas cheer. It had snowed an incredible amount that week, and many of the streets and sidewalks were still blanketed in more than a foot of powder.
There was a moment about midway through our date as we passed under a majestic oak tree, while the lights of one old building softly glowed nearby, a horse-drawn carriage rounded the bend, a crisp chill hung in the air, and the smell of fresh fried old-time doughnuts wafted along. I had an intense moment of clarity. It was as if the fog and film that so often fills the space between my eyes and my brain was suddenly wiped away, and I could fully appreciate the specialness of that instant. There was a rush of emotion that went with it: love for my wife, thankfulness for that time together, calmness and peace with where I was in that moment.
I want December to be remembered for the presents — as many of the present moments as I can be there for.
I have a few ideas for being more in the present.
The first is a simple mediation technique. When you notice your mind has wandered, gently bring it back to your breathing. I think by doing that I’ll break the daydreaming or distraction cycle and pay attention to what’s around me.
The second is borrowing from a time-management exercise. I may pick a day or two, set an alarm on my phone for every 10 or 15 minutes, and when it goes off jot down a few words about what I’m doing that moment. Then for another handful of days keep the alarm going (maybe spaced out) but don’t worry about writing. Just reflect on what I’m doing. Hopefully that will also make me better at paying attention to the moment.
The last idea is to not play on my iPad or phone unless I’m on the train. It’s easy to get sucked into the abyss and look up to find the past 45 minutes were spent doing nothing of significance. My wife would also tell you (and she certainly tells me) that I have too many notifications on my phone. I will audit those notifications — especially the vibrating alerts — to cut them down to a few essential ones.
There you have it, how I plan to give myself the gift of presence this month.
What techniques do you use to be more present in your everyday life?