The Gift Of Presence In Our Relationships
My husband is an incredibly talented man. He can repair almost anything that breaks, and he can build things, work heavy machinery, train dogs, create delicious meals, and so on. The list is endless, and I am always impressed and amazed at his abilities. Recently I stumbled upon a new skill he has kept hidden for all these years. The man can look right at me, nod in agreement with me, and not have any idea what I’ve said, am saying, or possess any inkling of what just transpired.
SEE ALSO: ‘Art Of War’ For Relationships
The special power
I had an entire conversation one day with him about how I had ordered a ham from an online store instead of buying it locally. I explained my research tactics, information that I had gathered, and how I concluded that this internet store was the only logical choice for us. He stared right at me, nodded, and to throw me off his trail; he grunted in agreement a few times. A few days later, when the UPS man delivered the package, and I opened it, he looked right at me and said: “why did you order that online and not just go to the store?”. Silence. Bewilderment. Confusion. Surely he must be started to show signs of decline because we just had this conversation, and he grunted his agreement while looking into my eyes. I reminded him patiently. I love this man and will not embarrass him by pointedly asking if he recalled our chat yesterday. I will love him right through his aging and mental decline. Without missing a beat, he responded…”I wasn’t listening to you.”
How can that be? How can someone look right at you, nod, smile, and NOT be listening? How was I to know when he was listening and when he was absent? My husband brought the question of presence right to the forefront of my mind that day. Human nature would be to become angry with him or annoyed. Instead, I became reflective. Am I present in my life? What does it mean to be present? Do I, at times, grunt absently to stay within my thoughts while pretending to be there for another’s?
The definition of presence is the state or fact of existing, occurring, or being present in a place or thing. For me, it is pausing from the distraction of the moment to truly see, hear, and connect with a person, project, or thought that needs me. It is genuinely giving whatever audience I have the gift of me—all of me being there for them.
The world is scatterbrained
Women often feel distracted, scattered, or burdened with attempting to do several things at once. We work, raise children, maintain a home, and countless relationships. It is common to hear people cite stress is killing them. There is too much to do in a day. I had times when I worked in corporate America that I would be driving from office A to office B deep in thought about an issue. I would sometimes ‘come to’ and not know where I was on the journey. I drove on autopilot so distracted just with my mind that I had no clue what road I was on. I’ve been at my daughter’s soccer game, and the bat phone would ring. I missed two goals. I cooked as I listened to a podcast. I watched TV and filed my nails. It is no wonder that most of us feel overwhelmed, and as if we are drowning.
I began understanding that this is because we are trying to split our focus across more than one thing at a time. We can usually achieve what’s needed, but we are not entirely in attendance at any of it. We, as a society, do not give our complete and undivided attention to any one thing at a time. We walk and read our phones. We don’t notice what’s around us, and we don’t fully engage in what we are learning. Its a life half lived. The evening news has a commentator delivering the story but also a scroll on the screen for us to read simultaneously about another story.
We boast on resumes about superior multi-tasking skills. We should say that we are excellent at doing several things at once while paying no attention to detail on any of them. People no longer experience anything in its totality because it is a badge of honor to juggle five things at once. How many times did an employee sit with me at work to tell me something? I would look at them for a moment and then to my monitor for a moment. Back and forth. Sure, I caught the gist of what they were saying, but I assure you that not only did I miss some of it, my half attention sent a message to them that they weren’t essential, and I didn’t care. How many times did my children rush into the kitchen while I was cooking to tell me about something, and just like my husband, I nodded and smiled but couldn’t tell you what was said.
Renew your focus
My focus now is on stopping everything and handling one task, one conversation, or one activity at a time. Perhaps it is a luxury that being retired affords me. The current state of quarantine has introduced many people to it because now everyone has time. We all have time to pause, time to focus, and time to give one thing your full and undivided attention. Our lives have become more straightforward due to the complicated chaos of the world. It is a gift.
Today I took a walk that I travel most days.
I breathed deeply and smelled my neighbor’s fireplace, I heard birds chirping, and I felt my heartbeat. I noticed the sun, the colors of the forest, a flower beginning to grow in a sea of dead grass from a year ago. I saw a tree branch had fallen. When I returned home, I told my husband about the limb. He grunted.
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