Presence—the art of having your mind and body in the same place at the same time.
Remember the days before mobile phones? I often look back on them fondly. I can vividly recall standing in a phone booth, etching a message into the glass (“For a good time, call Gary…”), and actually listening to the person on the other end of the line. Not scrolling through Instagram as the other person spoke. Not taking selfies while uttering canned responses. LISTENING. Of course, phone booths did have their drawbacks, i.e., the uncertainty of whether the phone pressed snugly against your cheek had recently spent time down a homeless man’s pants. Ah, the good old days.
Then cell phones arrived. No longer confined to phone booths, people could talk on the go. “What are you doing?” became the standard greeting—an implicit acknowledgment that both parties would continue to engage in other activities while chatting.
Next came social media. With the sharing of a few posed, filtered photos, we could pretend to be smart, beautiful, and successful…all while actually being none of the above. #lifeisgood
What’s next? An app that allows users to share random thoughts in 140 characters or less? Nah…that would never work.
Anyway, enough rambling. My point is this—we’re no longer present in our daily lives. Whether riding on the subway, walking down the street, riding in the elevator, or exercising at the gym, we’re often focused on things other than what we’re doing at the moment. We tell ourselves that this is no big deal—that these moments don’t matter. After all, who wants to be present while crammed into a crowded NYC subway at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning? Who besides me, that is. You see, I only ride the subway naked, so I enjoy the close contact.
One reason that presence is so important is because its opposite, mindlessness, results in missed opportunities. This happened to me just last week while shooting a sketch in L.A. (I write and shoot short sketches, because…well, why not? Wanna see? Follow @garyfromparis, baby). So there I was, focused on my upcoming scene, totally unaware of my surroundings, when who walks by?
Followed by Usher.
I couldn’t believe it. Who’s next, I thought, Michael Jackson?
And no, I don’t suffer from celebrity worship syndrome. Yes, that’s a thing.
Anyway, I was so focused on the upcoming scene that I barely noticed the presence of these two megastars just feet away from me. Can you imagine the impact that an appearance by one of these celebrities in my sketch would have had on its success? Sure, it’s unlikely that either would have agreed to it. But I wish I had at least had the presence of mind at the time to ask Kev-Money or U-Dog to appear in the sketch. Yes, I gave them nicknames. Don’t judge me.
Had I been present enough to ask them to join me in what is clearly a work of comedic genius (this is an article about presence, not modesty), the worst thing they could have said was “no.” Well, I suppose they could have laughed at me and made me cry, but let’s not be overly negative…
This brings us to another lesson: if you don’t act, you don’t get. Nothing comes to us without action. When an opportunity for action arises, SEIZE IT. Remember, the worst thing that can happen is that things won’t work out. No biggie. Just get up and try again.
So, to summarize:
- Take action;
- Be present;
- And remember, presence is a skill that we can improve upon. Here’s how:
Presence begins with the breath. Focus on your breathing to calm your mind. Remember, breath keeps us alive…along with pancakes. Lots of pancakes.
Focus on your body
In order to anchor yourself in the present, focus on your body parts individually—your toes, your right hand, your left shoulder, etc. What does your clothing feel like against your skin? Smooth? Rough? There’s so much going on right now that we aren’t aware of. Focus on your body, and presence will follow (for more tips on improving your focus, check this out).
Be flexible with your expectations
Allow life to unfold naturally. Observe your results, but don’t judge them. Accept and embrace reality.
Don’t focus on yourself
Occasionally shift your focus from yourself to the world around you. Listen to others when they speak. Listen to the music on the radio. Each moment in life is precious and fleeting. Take the time to cherish it.
Notice the unusual
Take notice of the strangeness of everyday life. Life is a lot less mundane than we might believe if we only take the time to examine it closely. For example, I find toothbrushes extremely funny. Is that weird? And what’s the deal with pillows? Let’s not even talk about your nose. I mean that quite literally, by the way. I find your nose quite strange.
Use your senses
Explore your senses. Have fun with them. Our senses create our reality, so experiment with them.
Comparing things forces us to focus on small details that we might otherwise have never noticed. For example, have you ever noticed that a coffee cup handle looks like a heart cut in half? Seriously, give this exercise a try. It fosters creativity and forces us to be present.
Presence brings many benefits. Confidence. Awareness. Creativity. Resilience. Clarity. Life.
Leave a comment and share your experience!
Also published on Medium.