Being Present Versus Being There

by Belinda Munoz on June 28, 2010

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BEING PRESENT

We’re all familiar with all this talk about presence or being present. We want to be able to pay attention to what’s here now over dwelling on the past or longing for the future. Fine.

While conceptually I get it, the practice of it is a whole other story. It’s not that I’m cynical. I’m not. I meditate, I practice yoga, I do breathing exercises. I want to live in the present. But you know what? I find being present in this context to be tricky business.I have a history and memories that I cannot ignore while nurturing high hopes for the future that, frankly, light my path when the present looks dim. So where does that leave me? Same place as always: hovering in the past, fumbling in the present, pining for (or dreading) the future.

I’m not dissing discussions of being present. I enjoy learning about how others practice it and how they work through their struggles with it. I do, however, find myself unconvinced by claims that the present is more important than the past or the future. Why? Because how would we explain nostalgia, reminiscing and lessons from the past? Well, sure, we stumble on our history lessons.  But they’re there and the possibility of learning from them does exist.  And what would we make of planning and being proactive? Who willingly and easily quits trying to get their ducks in a row in favor of doing the practice of being present better?  The past can inform the present, the future can offer a reprieve from the past, and the present bridges the two.

BEING THERE

I vote to exalt a different version of presence.

As I said in my last post, my in-laws had their fiftieth anniversary fete this past weekend. I had looked forward to this event for six months. It was everything I expected it to be. But it was also so much more. I learned how much showing up means. I’m convinced that showing up, or participating, is a gift.

One guest participated by designing and supplying all the gorgeous floral arrangements.  Another guest contributed by handwriting each place card in beautiful calligraphy. One guest flew in from another state. She and I visited as she helped me assemble the gift bags for all the guests. Our time together was lovely and normal. Only it wasn’t so normal because she’s terminally ill and has been told by her doctor to live it up as she could pass away at any time.

As I learned more about the guests, I was touched by how much effort it took some of them to show up.  To be there. One guest left a husband, recovering from a recent major operation, under the care of another. Another guest came despite becoming widowed very recently. Another guest who is learning to acclimate to sounds after being without hearing for most of her life, showed up without her husband who suffers from panic attacks.

I don’t know if I’ll see any of them again. I don’t know if any of them will remember meeting me. But they certainly made a huge impression on me that night. They showed me that the value of presence skyrockets to priceless when it is shared with others.

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  1. What does being present mean in your life?  Are you good at being present or do you find it tricky?  What helps you be present?
  2. Do you value your presence when you show up at an event honoring someone?
  3. What are your thoughts on being there and participation as it relates to your life?  To a loved one’s life?

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Image by Tony Blay

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tony Single June 28, 2010 at 5:10 am

This is pretty relevant to me right now, Belinda. What you call “being present” I call “just being there”, but I think we’re talking about the same thing.

I feel like a non entity at the best of times, so I find that I have to practise just being there wherever I go. Try to be physically aware of myself in relation to other people and my surroundings. This kinda helps me to not think about my awkwardness and shyness in social situations.

Of course, it’s not easy to do this AND still be listening carefully to what someone is saying if they happen to be talking to me! So, yeah, bit of a balancing act at times. 🙂

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2 Fr. Michael June 28, 2010 at 6:09 am

Belinda,

Living in the present moment is a great challenge indeed. I agree that both the past and the future are important: good memories can sustain us and lift our spirits; bad memories can teach us to avoid certain behaviors or situations; the future can impel us to create a better vision for our lives. But there is something about living in the present that is peaceful.

I think living in the present moment can help us to be more present to people. So often, when I’m at a social gathering and someone is talking to me, my mind is everywhere but in that conversation. I have to consciously bring myself back to the moment. So…practicing living in the present moment, I think, can enable us to be more consciously present to others.

Peace!

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3 Belinda Munoz June 28, 2010 at 9:01 am

Hi Fr. Michael, yes, I agree that living in the present can feel very peaceful and can help us be more attentive to those around us. Still, I wonder about less than ideal moods that can cloud our present state. I’m not sure giving in to a sour mood and speaking/acting from that perspective would make for a room full of happy people. But, wouldn’t that person be living in the moment by being true to her/his mood? I guess my question is how much of all this talk about being present is embraced for its promise-of-feeling-good factor and I wonder whether or not we slip into buying this concept wholesale yet end up suffering because we so often lapse out of living in the present and then feel less-than-good for doing so.

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4 Aging Mommy June 28, 2010 at 7:08 am

Hi Belinda

I think it is vitally important to live in the present. Yes, we bring to the here and now our experiences and lessons learned from the past. Also it is good to look to the future and have a plan – as I wrote about in my last blog post for example, I want to plan now for the day when my daughter starts school. But I think as a mother of a young child, I absolutely have learnt to appreciate all that the here and now has to offer, to cherish each and every moment I have and enjoy every day to the full. Because this time with her as a small, delightful, innocent child for whom every new experience is such a joy and delight, simple pleasures in life being so very joyous to her, will pass oh so very quickly. Just as all of life does, which is why you really do need to make the most of it, it only happens once.

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5 Jenny June 28, 2010 at 7:14 am

This is so timely Belinda!
I am re-reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which I highly recommend. It would answer so many of your above questions.
I have re-dedicated my life to living in the moment as I realize that the present moment is the only place where we can find our strength.
For me, this is like meditating all day, while doing other things and about 1000 times more difficult that sitting down to meditate… but worth it.
The past is useful for the purpose of learning, and there is nothing wrong with reviewing those happy memories, nor planning for the future. The problem is how much of our time and energy is spent there.
Action, can only happen now which is something I’ve realized lately. I’ve been focused on achieving my goals in the future, not so focused on what I need to do in this moment to get there. I think that many if not all of us get caught in this trap.Since the future will never arrive, I need to shift my thoughts if I am to accomplish my goals.
Thanks for this!

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6 Belinda Munoz June 28, 2010 at 8:34 am

Hi Jenny, thanks for weighing in. I can relate to your analogy of meditating all day while having to do things and/or make decisions simultaneously. I get the value of being present presence from your perspective of achieving goals and not getting hung up on the past. I’d love to hear more about how your practice of being present improves after reading a book like Tolle’s.

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7 Jenny June 28, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Thanks Belinda,,
I do plan to blog about it soon. Like tomorrow. I swear…

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8 BigLittleWolf June 28, 2010 at 8:48 am

“Showing up” is underrated. Showing up is half the battle – sometimes far more, when you are older, or not as healthy as you used to be. Showing up is about some element of presence for the OTHERS who are there. Not about us. About loving and respecting them – and I think that’s important to remember. So for those who feel like they “show up” rather than “feel present” I think they shouldn’t feel badly about that.

One thing about fatigue or other things keeping you from “presence” most of the time (it can be a good thing – who wants full consciousness of life’s constant challenges?) – when you have wonderful surprising moments, those often pierce the protective layers.

I had a few this weekend. Very quiet. Very private. Very sweet. A mother’s moments, realizing all the years have mattered. Sharing, not sharing – nothing could take that away.

There are indeed all kinds of being present. I think we should worry less about it, and feel what we can, if we can. The rest of the time,”just” showing up – when we can – may mean a great deal to someone we love.

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9 Belinda Munoz June 28, 2010 at 10:08 am

BLW, you said it far better than I ever could. Yes, I live for those sweet and tender moments of presence with my son or my husband or anyone else I care about. But I hesitate to admit that I may be having more bad-feeling moments since I’ve blown up in my head the importance of being present when I fail to be. Which makes me question how subscribing to the importance of living in the moment (and failing to do so as often as I do) is any better than not subscribing and simply letting the moments of presence come when they do. I’d love to hear how others DO being present and whether or not they’re any good at it.

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10 Mark June 28, 2010 at 8:55 am

Being present is what it is all about! The key is to be present in all that we do which is sometimes a challenge with all of the distractions that come our way. Being present is what makes this moment joyful! Thanks for this reminder.

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11 Katie June 28, 2010 at 10:34 am

Belinda, provocative post as always. I feel present when I’m being creative or walking. It’s not about forgetting or negating the past, I think it’s about noticing and being mindful more than erasing past and future. I feel the greatest sense of inner joy, when I keep things very simple, often when I’m alone, in nature. I can be more present, more there, without distractions (this from someone who can’t drive and talk at the same time). Thanks for this thoughtful post.

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12 Sandra Hendricks June 28, 2010 at 10:46 am

Hi Belinda,

I see where you are coming from with this post, I did one similar on discovering your purpose. I think that the concept of “living in the present” is a simple tool. Our memories and probabilities are two aspects of our imagination that can help us or harm us. However, both are equally important, and are connected to the way we manage in life, as you pointed out. Many people suffer from complacency and regret or hold grudges, so the concept was designed to help us let go, as far as I can see. I think it is one of those concepts, like many out there, that we have to use, to help us keep a healthy perspective. What does it mean to live in the past or for the future? I am not a religious person but the manna story in the bible seems closely related to this idea of living in the present.

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13 Sara June 28, 2010 at 11:46 am

Belinda — I loved this post because I also struggle with the concept of “being present.”

I see “being present” as a I do being happy.It’s not meant to be a state you can always be in. I believe you get moments of “being present,” just like you get moments of happiness. Eventually, you step out of them because something happens that demands you think about the future or the past. I don’t think you can totally live in the present.

I’m intrigued by the concept of “presence” or “showing up.” Something tells me that you “showing up” at your in-laws anniversary was a “shared” present moment that enriched your life as well as the lives of the others at this event.

I also believe it becomes a shared past moment, which will be fondly remembered in later years. This, in turn, makes a shared future moment.”~) It’s the “sharing” of your presence that’s so special. I hope this makes sense????

I liked the way you thought about this and it made me think! Thanks for post:~)

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14 Kristen @ Motherese June 28, 2010 at 11:49 am

Thank you for this post, Belinda. I too have noticed the plethora of presence posts ever since I started blogging last fall. While I do appreciate those rare moments when I recognize that I am really living in the moment, in general I try to put less pressure on myself and take small steps to minimize distraction when I’m doing something important or just something I want to be doing. Something as simple as keeping the laptop closed when I’m at home with my kids might not be a form of meditation, but it helps me keep my mind focused on the people I’m with. Does that mean I’m being fully present? I doubt it; my mind still wanders plenty toward the past, toward the future, and toward my grocery list and the calls I need to return. But it’s the best I know how to do right now.

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15 rob white June 28, 2010 at 1:59 pm

This is a good one, Belinda. There are very few people on this planet mastered enough to be “present” all the time (I once heard the number is 44 at any given time – people such as Sai Baba). Some people delude themselves into thinking they can achieve this state of peace in this lifetime.

Motivated and successful achievers certainly don’t sit around with their palms up all day. They are pragmatic in their vision for the future while learning from the past. I think it is wise to be present to the point to where we are focused on our ultimate growth & development. Great discussion.

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16 Christine LaRocque June 28, 2010 at 6:26 pm

So much to think about as usual, and I’m not sure this comment will do what I’m thinking justice. It is an interesting walk we do, living our lives informed and affected by our pasts, conscious of our present, and hopeful of our future. The key for me has been doing any kind of living in the present. I’ve never been good at it, so mindfulness is making a difference. I’m mostly a “live in the future” kind of person, always looking forward, anticipating, expecting. I’ve learning to inform my present and my future with the lessons of my past through my writing and conscious thinking. All this to say, it’s such a complex issue, one that I think is interesting enough to discuss over and over and to see from all perspectives.

But just being, now that is the hard part as you say. I’m working on trying to just “be” when with my kids. They deserve it. They deserve my full attention.

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17 Wilma Ham June 28, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Hi Belinda.
There are some different aspects you are putting in this one post.
Memories from the past are like movies, I choose to go there and enjoy them. That is what I call a healthy relationship with the past and a good use of the present moment.
Living in the past and NOT being able to let the past go, is NOT a choice and in my books NOT a healthy relationship but a compulsive one AND it is a waste of ‘now’ time.
Dreaming about the future is another healthy pass time, worrying and fretting about the future and therefore losing out on the current time, is unhealthy and again often not a choice.
Being present is enjoying what is right in front of me right now, making the most what is on offer as I cannot get a refund.
Showing up is great too, for me it means walking the talk and being love-in-action. Saying and not doing is not showing up but an empty promise.
That those people showed up for me shows their love for your in-laws and that they are awesome. xox Wilma

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18 Zengirl @ Heart and Mind June 28, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Belinda,

I am glad that your parents-in-laws’s anniversary celebration went very well. Congratulations to them.

We seemed to have somewhat similar thoughts as I too blogged about learning from history today. We can learn so much from our elders, only we stop to ask and listen to them I think they have lot of wisdom to share.

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19 Positively Present June 29, 2010 at 4:02 am

As you probably know, I write a lot about being present on Positively Present, but I’ve never thought about the topic in quite this way before. I really think there’s a huge difference between “being present” and “being there” and it’s a very important difference to consider. Thanks for writing about this, Belinda!

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20 Meg June 29, 2010 at 6:01 am

Interesting set of questions. Living in the moment can take you out of your own skin better than anything else, it can take your ego out of the situation. It does not exclude awareness of the past or desire for the future–it can’t, if it fully embraces all elements of the present.

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21 Aileen June 29, 2010 at 11:58 am

Being present is one of the best gifts we can give to another person – just being fully present with them. It’s not always easy to be fully present with our minds being over loaded and preoccupied – but when we can be present , it really mattes.

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22 Jarrod - Cultivating Heroes June 29, 2010 at 3:23 pm

For me being present is being able to observe and experience both the internal and external worlds simultaneously. If it I take it to another level it is about being able to direct your focus to the wholeness of an experience.

With that being said, there are times when it is necessary to use the mind to plan and extract lessons. This is fine these are seperate moments. The point there is to be the master of your focus.

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23 TheKitchenWitch July 1, 2010 at 6:42 am

Sometimes I believe in this “present” stuff and sometimes I think it’s bunk. There are certain moments that I don’t want to miss, certainly. Moments I shouldn’t miss and sometimes do. But the laundry and the dishes and the 6th game of CandyLand? No thanks. I think I’d rather have my mind elsewhere.

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24 Belinda Munoz July 1, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Ha! For me it would be reading 101 Dalmatians six times in a row.

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25 Sarah July 1, 2010 at 5:59 pm

I recently read somewhere something about the time we have to spend doing the things we want to do, and how we should spend it. Oh it was written quite eloquently, to be sure–much more eloquently than I can recount now after a long day with work and boys has finally come to an end–but the gist is that our time should mostly be spent with the people in our lives. Because, in the end, it’s about connections. Yes, connections. That thing I am always so hung up on. Showing up, in the context in which you write here, is really what is most important. Showing up to be a part of the lives that you cling to, the ones that define you as much as your kids or your job or your husband does. Good friends, sisters and brothers, cousins, old roommates, pastors or priests. It could be any number of people.

The reason that this resonated so much with me is not because it’s nouveau–for, certainly, it is not. But rather because being a mom to three boys makes it near impossible to “make the trip” I have to make to spend the time with the friend I so desperately want to see. It almost seems like it’s not worth the hassle it’s going to be. But that’s wrong. It’s always worth the hassle. And the “hassle” is so much less of a hassle if I just stop viewing it as that, and instead view it as the thing I need to do to get the thing I want to do.

So, piling all of the kids in the car and driving 8 hours to meet up with a bestie who lives far away? Totally worth it…

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26 Belinda Munoz July 1, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Connections! I love that you commented about that! I’m learning and re-learning this (and am hoping it’ll one day sink in). I’ve come to prize showing up more so than quality time spent with people. I mean, I love quality time as much as anybody. But before becoming a mother, I didn’t really appreciate showing up enough. It was always fairly easy to get my ass somewhere and I assumed that if someone wasn’t handicapped, it should be just as easy for them to show up for me, too. Now I know how hard it is to leave behind (or take with) a little one and just how limited time really is.

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