I’m one of those people who has trouble being present. I had dinner with friends the other night and the only thing I remember about it is the spicy chicken soup. We could have been plotting the overthrow of the government for all I know.
I’ve had long trips on the freeway, made it home and then wondered how I got there because I don’t remember the drive. I may have used a transporter beam and forgotten about it when my atoms were reassembled.
I guess I’m used to this because it’s normal for me, but it also explains why I don’t see friends all that often. Apparently, I say next to nothing in conversations and that seems to annoy the less self-centered friends. The ones who talk endlessly are fine.
I can get away with this because I have a wife who does talk and only occasionally gets annoyed with me for not helping with discussions. I do chip in with quips when the sarcastic lobe of my brain subconsciously plucks a straight line out of the random words floating about around me. I can’t contribute, but I can react. Observers then falsely believe I’ve been listening.
I’m not bragging about any of this because I know it’s awful and I’m trying to reform. It’s just that the trendy remedies — the ones that pop up on the internet or the best-seller list — don’t seem to work for me. Some of them seem self-contradictory.
Take meditation. Somehow this is supposed to make you more present and turn off your mind. Maybe not at the same time, but I don’t see how one helps the other. If I’ve spent part of the morning counting breaths, I’m ready for a nap, not negotiation.
Other common advice just seems weird. Keeping a journal is counterproductive — I’d spend the day worrying about what to write. Finding an “accountability partner” seems like a good way to lose a friend.
If nothing else, worrying about presence is contributing to the economy. There are ample opportunities for spending money on books and T-shirts that are supposed to concentrate your mind.
You can spend many enjoyable hours on the internet laughing at suggestions for improving awareness. The domain names alone are worth the effort. My favorite so far is “productiveflourishing.com” where the first suggestion is “Drink Water.” The third is “Wiggle Your Toes.”
If you Google “how to be more present,” you’ll get something like this list of suggestions:
Yes, number 8 is “Stop worrying.” Why didn’t I think of that?
But just because I’m skeptical of all this popular advice doesn’t mean I think the situation is hopeless. Thanksgiving is coming up so I know I need to do something. It’s the perfect time to experiment with solutions.
Here are some things I’m going to try this year. You may want to try them too.
Focus on the turkey. Fix the image of the turkey in your mind and then place it around the head of the person talking so that their face is in the open belly where the stuffing is supposed to go. You will be fascinated by what the turkey has to say.
Take three deep breaths and fix your gaze on the lips of the person doing the most talking. Now mentally paint those lips a full, sensuous bright red. Watch the lips as they move provocatively. Change the colors. Use paisley, polka dot, and patterned checks. You will be enveloped by those lips.
Play with the mashed potatoes. Sculpt them into castles and gardens and magical creatures. Other vegetables can inhabit this paradise too. You’ll be fully occupied and your friends and family will benefit as well as they’re drawn into your edible world.
Wiggle your fingers.