Your Presence is Required by Ed Center
A few months ago, I had a telling experience with my two-year old son. We were heading outside to enjoy a clear San Francisco Saturday morning. I grabbed my keys and phone. My son glared at me and demanded, “NOT YOUR PHONE!” Even at his young age, he had enough experience to recognize the threat. If Daddy has his phone, I will have to compete for his attention. He wasn’t having that, and cut me off at the pass.
A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if I would work out with him. We met up at the gym, and I was surprised that he didn’t take his earbuds out as we started.
“What are you listening to?” I asked.
“What’s that?” he replied.
I haven't worked out with him again.
My goal here isn’t to harangue technology’s intrusion into our personal lives – although that’s a worthwhile cause. Rather, it’s to point out how multiple forces: technology, shifting culture, and changing expectations about work and leisure time are hindering our ability to be present in a given moment. Back in December, as I raced around trying to fulfill the consumerist desires of my kids and other family members, I realized that I was longing for genuine human connection. I wanted play, spontaneity, even stillness. And I realized - the greatest present is our presence. Not just physically being there, but spending time fully engaged, attentive and connected. So I’ve made it my most critical goal to cultivate more pure presence in my life.
Here are some things I’m trying:
Have date night at breakfast
My husband and I have realized that we don’t give each other our best hours. Those are reserved for the kids and for work. By the time we can have an uninterrupted conversation it’s 9pm, and I for one, am too tired to share and listen well. So we’ve started having breakfast together on a weekday every other week. It’s been phenomenal. Our rules are that we can’t plan or discuss logistics. We share thoughts on big things and little things. We are awake, at ease, energized, and who doesn’t like pancakes and sausage (erm… I mean avocado toast). I’ve learned that he would consider moving to Austin. I’ve shared my fears on being relevant as I age. Try this and see how you feel the rest of the day.
Present with kids
I’ve been practicing Special Time. In Special Time, you set aside some time—from three minutes to an hour—and you play whatever your child wants to. For us, this means each kid gets 15 minutes each day of fun, one on one attention. My son decides what we will do and I follow his lead. No interruptions, no phones, no distractions. I set the parameters of no money spent and no screen time and he gets to decide the rest. On a given day, I’ll take one kid, my husband will take the other, and then the next day we switch. I’ve been amazed by two things – how hard it is to cut out this little slice of my day, and how much the kids love it. We’ve built forts, played Othello, and shot rubber bands off the balcony. We’ve had the best dance parties. This practice guarantees that you will find a moment of joy with your kid every day.
I’ve also been putting my phone in a drawer when I get home and trying not to take it out until the kids are asleep. I never make it. But it does stop me from mindless scrolling. I’ve taken to deleting social media apps from my phone during the weekdays.
Present with friends
I’ve had the gift of having a little more time on my hands of late. With Kenzai training, I’m often not drinking and I miss my friends. So I’ve been doing some wonderful zoom calls of one to three hours in duration, with one or two people. There’s something soul-stirring about being with people I love. Even online.
Present with self
I’m a strong extrovert, so this isn’t something I default to. But with all the distractions of life, it can be easy to forget to be in touch with oneself. Here are three things I’m trying:
The Kenzai Mind program has been transformative for me. It’s had a huge impact on my parenting and my sense of attachment to my emotions. It’s not that I have control over my feelings. I don’t. It’s that I’m able to realize that I can chose to get swept up with that feeling or not.
I used to be a book worm and lost that at some point along the way. Lately, I’ve committed to turning off screens at 9pm and reading until I fall asleep. It doesn’t always work - I’m writing this sentence at 10:41pm. I remain hopeful.
Working out without headphones
I do this once a week. I love podcasts. I get most of my news through them. But it means I’m always multitasking during a workout. Especially during cardio. Sometimes it’s essential to let your thoughts flow free and see what happens.
Notice I say “try” a lot here. These are practices that I get right only sometimes. But when I focus on these, I can feel an instant, palpable jolt in my satisfaction and quality of life.
Is there a way we could do more to support each other to be present on the most fulfilling things in life? My answer is, yes!
By: Ed Center // Kenzai Assistant Trainer & Member