“Have you offered your presence to the person you love? Are you so busy that you cannot be there for that person? If you are a father or a mother, or a partner, generate your own presence, because that is the most precious gift you can offer.
When the other person realizes that his or her presence has been recognized and confirmed, he or she will blossom like a flower.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay),
you are here, Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment
Thay’s words ring so true. Even when we are present in body, are we truly present in mind? Often we get so caught up in the tasks we need to accomplish for the day, or the emails we have to respond to, or the phone calls we have to make…and we forget to fully connect with those around us. One day I was typing an email back and forth with a colleague who was down the hall. “This is ridiculous,” I thought, “I should get up and go talk to her in person.” Having a ten-minute discussion with her drastically reduced the amount of time and energy it would have taken to email back and forth. We ended up also connecting on a personal level by giving each other support around being sleep deprived working moms. All in all, I left the conversation feeling a bit lighter than I had before, and even got some exercise from getting up from my desk and walking.
We have an opportunity to truly connect with others in our personal lives as well. For example, there are days I go home feeling completely drained and can’t understand why I don’t have any energy left to be present to my family. Mindfulness practice has helped me notice when negative thoughts are impacting my relationships. For example, I notice that when I’m tired and stressed, time with my kids starts to feel like another chore to complete on the to do list. On my commute home I’ll notice my busy mind running through all the tasks that need to be done once I get there:
“we have to prepare dinner, clean up, get the kids washed up, brush their teeth, get my stuff together for tomorrow…Oh, and I have to enter my work time sheets, check emails and throw in a load of laundry too. Mark (my hubby) needs a break too!”
I realized that this train of thought left me feeling exhausted by the time I got home. Mindfulness practice helps us focus on being in the present moment and not constantly anticipating what’s next. Through mindfulness, we can pay attention to the beautiful scenery as the sun sets over the horizon and the vibrant colors bounce off the trees and clouds. I find the best nights are when I practice a mindful commute home. I then feel energized enough to play with my kids, mindfully connect with my husband or to have a heart to heart conversation with a good friend.
Today take time to notice what’s around you using your five senses. Be mindful of the types of thoughts you are having. Are they inspiring you or draining you? Are they helping you connect with loved ones in meaningful ways? Notice the scenery on your commute home. Sing and dance with your kids after dinner. Go on a mindful walk. Turn off the TV and play instead. Kick the ball around in the yard. Catch fireflies. Enjoy every lick of the ice cream cone with your favorite toppings. Make eye contact with your loved ones. Be present. Be there mentally as well as physically, because after all, “that is the most precious gift you can offer.”
How did your practice go? Were there any difficulties, and if so how did you manage them?
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Part of good self care means recognizing when we are experiencing unreasonable expectations. We tend to have certain beliefs about ourselves and others that can sometimes be completely unrealistic. For the longest time I thought being a good Mom meant that I cooked homemade meals every night, maintained a cool, calm demeanor all the time, and read books to my son every night. Well, considering I also have a full time job, it started to feel overwhelming to try to conform to these standards I had set for myself. If I didn’t accomplish these tasks on a regular basis I’d start beating myself up about it. Recently I discovered that part of self care means recognizing our own limitations, allowing ourselves to be human and stopping the barrage of criticism coming from my inner critic. I say, enough already! We tend to accumulate years of other people’s beliefs about what we need to be and how we need to do something. Well, did we ever stop to think that we don’t have to agree with other people’s opinions?
Our freedom lies in the power to make our own decisions about how to manage our own lives. It also lies in the ability to release others from unreasonable expectations we also hold of them. Maybe our parents weren’t all we expected of them. Perhaps our extended family can’t meet all of our needs when we need them. Our friends might be busy with their own lives and don’t stay in touch as often as we’d like them to do. Regardless of other people’s behavior though, we can still choose to live good lives. We can let go of beliefs that might be interfering with our ability to have healthy connections with others. We can not expect others to meet all of our needs. It is up to us to make that happen.
What are your expectations for yourself? What do you believe about others and the roles they serve in your life? How can you balance your beliefs to reflect realistic expectations for yourself or others?