My middle-school aged son, Aiden, has been playing basketball since he was 3. Until Coronavirus, almost every weekend throughout the year is planned around basketball games and tournament schedules. I love watching my son play, but I also love chatting with the mom’s in the stands as well. One woman I am particularly fond of is a teammate’s 82-year old little Italian grandmother. She’s a spitfire and a spitting image of my paternal Scilian grandmother who I absolutely adored, right down to her 4’11” frame, her occasional questionable comments, and her passionate exuberance for the little things. Since the onset of the pandemic, we started chatting on the phone every couple of weeks and she’s shared some new daily habits she’s adopted to keep from going stir crazy, including a breathing technique and a grounding exercise. As we’ve talked over the weeks she continues to remark about how helpful these strategies are for resting her thinking, especially when the daily news becomes a bit too much, however in a recent conversation, she was describing some additional observations she has made.
She had been tackling small projects around the house, but this time she noticed it felt different. Instead of rushing to finish the task as she normally would, she was actually just enjoying the process. It surprised her, how at peace she was, with no feeling of “let me just get this over with!” As she was cleaning out the kitchen drawers, with nothing but time on her hands, she found the process (not just the outcome) of rearranging, purging, and organizing, both cleansing and rejuvenating. By fully engaging the mind in what the body is doing, she had discovered the gift of being present in the moment.
Now as much as I can identify when someone is describing being present in the moment, I am often far from achieving it. I have a habit of moving without thinking, which is why you will often catch me opening the fridge or looking at my phone, and then saying “Think Renee” as I’m trying to recall what I am doing at any given moment. I think most of us have a habit of functioning on autopilot, performing routine tasks without really noticing the steps of each task. Headspace creator, Andy Puddicombe, suggests combating this tendency by approaching common tasks with a “beginner’s mind.” He teaches, when we let go of our previous experiences and approach mundane tasks with a sense of curiosity and wonder, we experience it with a fresh set of eyes. Leo Babauta explains in, Approaching Life with Beginner’s Mind, that when we remove our preconceived ideas and engage in a common activity with no expectations, it’s no longer the same experience it’s always been. We see, smell, taste, feel, and hear more vividly, and because you’re not distracted, you will notice details that would be otherwise overlooked.
Another strategy I have heard to help stay present in what I’m doing is from an episode of Oprah Super Soul Sunday. The guests (who apparently I wasn’t paying very good attention to because I cannot remember who they were) were saying when completing everyday chores, approach the task with a sense of passion like an expert in that field would do. Make your bed like Martha Stewart would make her bed, perfecting your sharply folded corners and perfectly placed pillows. Cook breakfast with the passion and exuberance of Julia Child. Seek to enjoy each moment of the process instead of racing to the finish line.
These are words I need to play again and again in my mind to be intentional enough to align my body with my brain. Some days I do better than others, but I’m okay with my life-long journey to find a sense of presence. I give myself grace and strive for better.