Thursday, December 16, 2010

Are You Fully Present with Your Loved Ones?

We’re lucky to live near Newport News Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the U.S., with more than 8,000 acres of woodlands, meadows and lakes. When our daughter Alison was a child, I’d often take her there for walks and to play on the playground equipment. I’ll never forget one gorgeous warm spring day she and I went went out on the paddle boats.

We had a great time exploring different areas of the reservoir, but what I remember most about that day was not the experience itself.

I had my own business even back then – working as a solo entrepreneur – and I distinctly recall having to constantly shift my mind from work back to the present moment. I kept thinking about a project I had going with a client, so I was not paying full attention to Alison or the beauty around us.

To tell you the truth, I became really annoyed with myself. I caught myself becoming pre-occupied with my thoughts several times, so I had to continuously remind myself to focus on the “now” and not the future.

Today I’m glad I had that experience. When we got home, I realized the price I’d paid. I had not created the rich memories from our time together that I could have if I’d been attending more fully to each moment as it unfolded. That day continues to serve as an anchor for me, reminding me to pay attention to the people and events around me.

Life holds even more distractions now. Smart phones alone have resulted in a dramatic changes in the way people interact with each other. How can someone possibly be fully focused on the person in front of them when they’re checking text messages?

Ultimately, the ability to be fully present requires self-awareness - so you recognize when your mind is drifting - and a willingness to adopt a new way of thinking and being. There are huge payoffs for making this commitment:

#1 - You won’t look back years later with regret that you didn’t give focused attention to the people who matter most to you.

#2 - You’ll have richer memories of all your experiences because you’ve truly “absorbed” them as they happened.

#3 - The individuals you gave focused attention to will feel cherished and valued by you.
“If you let yourself be absorbed completely, if you surrender completely to the moments as they pass, you live more richly those moments.” - Anne Morrow Lindbergh
“Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them.” - Alan Watts
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” - Thornton Wilder


  1. Meredith, the irony is so thick for me on this one. I came to my PC to print an e-mail as we are going to a friend's 40th. I saw in my inbox that you are following me on twitter. I quickly scanned your profile and this is what I chose to read. So, not sure how long I have been here, but the good thing is I have not kept my wife waiting. The fact of the matter is I went from getting directions and moving on to being distracted into a totally different space. I can't say I did not enjoy it, but rather amusing.

  2. Thabo, thank you for sharing that all-too-familiar experience! At least you were AWARE that you were doing it. Tell your wife I appreciate her patience as you read my blog. :-)

  3. Meredith, I applaud this terrific advice! As the father of two lovely daughters, now adults, I want to underscore that we get only a relatively small span of time when our children are ours exclusively. Sure, we're busy building financial security for them during those formative years. Still, what they will treasure most in later years will be our participation in their activities, trips to fun places, and the empathy we showed when they spoke.

    To repeat a statement I wish I had originated: "Be present when you show up."

  4. Bill, I love that statement. It's true about so many things we do in being on vacation and thinking about work! Thank you for your important point about the limited time we have with our children. The years pass so quickly!


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