I’m driving over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to Oakland with my then-husband. It’s 1994 and he says, “You’re always doing multiple things at once.”
It’s awesome!” I boast.
“I can do at least three things at once.”
I loved that feeling of being “oh-so-efficient” by doing multiple things at a time. “Don’t you think doing one thing at a time makes us more present?” my then-husband asked.
As I hurtled through space over the vast expanse of water, it suddenly occurred to me that he was not giving me a complement, but rather gently pointing out that I was not present most of the time. The very fact that I multi-tasked meant I was inevitably NOT mindful of one of the tasks at hand.
My heart sank.
“Hmmmmm.” I mumbled.
He went on to tell me some story, but all I could hear was the drone of words. His earlier comment made me realize I had a skewed perspective of my multi-tasking talent.
Five years later, after a car accident that reoriented my life, I was on a 12-day vision quest in New Mexico. My big questions at the time were “Why am I here? What am I supposed to do now?” I felt like I’d been given another chance at life and I didn’t want to waste it.
As I sat alone under the cotton candy New Mexico clouds, with only water for sustenance and myself to be with, I waited for answers. I was eager to know why I’d been given a second chance. I wanted to KNOW. What was my life about? How could I serve best?
On day 3 of the solo- portion of the vision quest, I began to hear a whisper of an answer.
Each day I chased shade in the noon sun, and battled my longing for food and my desire for big answers, and I knew it was coming.
Still the answer came:
I could feel my own grasping, that desire for something else, some BETTER answer. Something more precise.
“Really? That’s it? ‘Be present’?”
Yup. That’s it.
I was hoping for something more – something like
“Become a nurse, go live in Africa and help build latrines.
Something more than ‘Be present.’”
I left the vision quest disappointed and discouraged. What was I supposed to do now? I trundled on, down my life's road and continued seeking.
It took years for me to understand the answer I received on the vision quest. Only after I’d been teaching yoga for 5 years did the “aha” moment happen.
“Ohhhhhhhh! I’m supposed to be teaching people to BE PRESENT because that is my biggest life lesson.”
Since that vision quest, I’ve spent the last 20 years cultivating presence in my life. With the onslaught of technology, with hundreds of apps vying for our attention, and the constant need to stay connected, it’s harder and harder to STAY present and to not check the phone, the computer, email or texts, much less Instagram, Facebook and twitter.
Our modern times are amazing and overwhelming at once. Never before has there been a time when we have needed to find the inner discipline to stay present and practice doing one thing at a time.
Never before has it seemed so critical to practice simplicity in our complex, fascinating world.
As I look back at that vision quest, I see that the answer I got was my life’s dharma. I still practice staying present. I have some personal policies that help me which I thought I'd share with you as we start 2018:
1. Do one thing at a time. (I’m devoting 2018 to REALLY take this one on)
2. If I’m with a person, face to face, all technology can wait – texts, calls, emails.
3. When eating, slow down, be present with the tastes and flavors of the food. (This often means not talking or listening to someone talk I find)
4. Check what I allow into my energetic field – books, news, movies, music – make sure whatever I read/watch/listen to is going to help me feel uplifted, not beaten down.
5. Get out to nature every day.
6. Play with children or animals as often as possible.
7. Draw/paint/dance/sing/play a musical instrument
8. Pay attention to light and how it changes throughout the day.
9. Practice gratitude for what I DO have.
10. Remember that there will always be more “work” to do, “laundry” to fold, and “errands” to run, have fun now!
These are some of my practices. As I said, I’m going to take on doing ONE thing at a TIME for 2018. Wanna join me? Let me know if you decide to take on any new practice in 2018 to help you stay more present.