Over the last week I’ve had several experiences and have read several articles that have gotten me thinking about the importance of being present, and (more importantly), that it is in each of our control to set rules and boundaries that allow us to be more present.
On Saturday, my husband Tim and I went to the wedding of a long-time friend. The event started with a cocktail hour in which everyone talked and mingled (including the bride and groom). When we transitioned to the room where the ceremony would take place, the chairs were arranged in an oval two rows deep, with a big open space in the middle. The groom, and then bride, came in to the middle of the circle, so that we were all part of what was happening. The ceremony was performed by two of their friends, along with readings from both of their mothers. At one point, we were all asked to close our eyes and place our hands over our hearts, in a moment of togetherness and support for the couple. And even just as a participant, it was a pretty special instance of being in the moment, being present, and being part of a greater community.
I’m a regular reader of fellow MIT alum Brad Feld’s blog, and also a fan of the books he’s written. He’s the director of a VC firm, and is a big part of the start-up community in Boulder, CO. As he invests in and works with companies in many cities, he spends much of his time on the road. Back in mid-May, he said that he wasn’t going to travel anymore this year in order to take a break. On Sunday, he wrote a follow-up post sharing how the no-travel thing was working for him. In short, he is loving it. He’s changed the rules of how he works, and has found that without all of the time commitment and inefficiency that comes along with travel, he has a lot more time to do things he cares about, and also has a greater ability to focus. And even though he wasn’t physically present with some people he was used to meeting with in person regularly, he was much more present, and able to be in the moment of whatever he was doing.
Sunday morning, I went to church, and during the homily the priest shared a story about Sister Dolores Hart, who had visited the church recently and given a talk to younger parishioners that primarily worked in the entertainment industry. Her name sounded familiar, and I realized it was because she also had recently met with Maria Shriver, who I follow on Facebook. Her name may have also sounded familiar because she was a Hollywood starlet who starred opposite Elvis Presley, and then elected to leave acting and become a nun. One of the messages Sister Dolores had to the group was to bring all of your talents to whatever it is you are doing, and to be fully there in what you are doing. Once again, this message of each of being present, and that it is in your control.
Then earlier today, a good friend sent on an article that was published in the NY Times today – Coveting Not a Corner Office, but Time at Home. In the vein of continued response to “Lean In”, Sara Uttech, a working mother from Wisconsin, is profiled on the decisions and choices she (and her friends) have made. While she has a career that is important to her, her top priority is having control over her schedule so that she can live life on her own terms – make all of her kids baseball games, have time for church on Sundays, and have time for her monthly book club (which has a similar function to the “Lean In” groups now being promoted). Sara has set boundaries and rules for when and how she works, and as a result she is able to be present at the moments that are important for her.
Out of all of this, I’m paying more attention to how I am and how I’m not being present. Am I really listening to the response people give when I ask how they are doing? Have I set up work and living rules that divide my attention in too many ways? How much more connected to the world around me, and how much more impactful will I be, by being really present at all times?