Relentless Presence

The battle tested methodology to slow down time.

Hey everyone,

I’ve decided to extend my trip to the Midwest but found ample time to do a write up about something on my mind this week. As always, thank you for reading and sharing.

Quote of the week:
“In the space between stimulus (what happens) and how we respond, lies our freedom to choose. Ultimately, this power to choose is what defines us as human beings. We may have limited choices but we can always choose. We can choose our thoughts, emotions, moods, our words, our actions; we can choose our values and live by principles. It is the choice of acting or being acted upon.” — Stephen Covey

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When we reflect on our adventures in life — our travels, our relationships, and our creations — we often forget the stepping stones that led us to that moment. We get lost and tangled in the noise of each day and allow time to escape us. We reminisce on the past and wish the days didn’t pass with such urgency. Ultimately, we fantasize about better times without regard for the current ones.

We plan trips overseas, we set ambitious milestones for our career affairs, and we absolutely dream about the future. And so we work for the weekends. We get caught up talking about the future or stuck operating in past tense.

Some (hopefully all) of our dreams will realize in some capacity. Our past will overwhelm us with nostalgia, love and even bitterness. But those times are fleeting.

While we have so much to look forward to — and to live for — there’s so much time between now and then. Days, weeks, even months pass and we wonder where the time has gone. We look back fondly on our days, but detest their passage.

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?” — C.S. Lewis

It’s said that there is nothing certain in this world but death and taxes. Armed with this information, you would think that more of us would at minimum be fighting the passage of time. We’d be trying to relentlessly protect it, nourish it, and enjoy the passing of time as opposed to being surprised by it. At least we’re contesting taxes.

Every time we download a new app on our phone we grant the notification overlords permission to invade our consciousness. When we're with our friends and loved ones, we marvel at the places we’ll go and the things we’ll do together. Oh how haphazardly we relinquish our attention to a cell-phone chime and a day-dream.

What if we were instead relentlessly present? Instead of the places we will go, the places we are going. As opposed to obsessing over the peak of the mountain, we begin to shift our focus to the knee-aches, the triumph, the over-grown trails, and the sleepy creeks along the way.

Following a wedding earlier this year, I went hiking alone in the Great Smoky Mountains. It was an arduous journey that involved an insufficient amount of water, new friends, and a rewarding swim at the end. And while I loved the picturesque peak and the conversations along the way — I found the tiny moment afterward, laying in the sun, to be pretty nice as well. The mountain trek is a memory worth keeping, but I’m also happy I didn’t let the quiet one pass me by.

It’s a serious bummer, really. There’s so much more to enjoy given an extra ounce of attention, and yet, we cyclically find ourselves imagining better days.

"I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them." — Andy Bernard (The Office)

The hard truth is this: each moment we're stuck in the past or future, we're not engaging with our best selves. Each moment our body is in the current moment while our mind is thinking about that message from them, we are effectively robbing ourselves of what it is to be human.

To be human is to converse, to love, and to experience! Those all require that we don’t fall prey to the distraction and noise in the world. They require that we are relentlessly present in each moment.

In order to be relentlessly present, it’s imperative that we fight for our attention at all costs. When we’re at dinner with our friends, laying by the pool, or reminiscing with family - there’s no reason for the noise of life to live in our head rent-free. In order to be relentlessly present, we need to be diligent in leaving our obligations for another day. The cost of putting our attention on auto-pilot is fatal.

Some ideas of my own in order to be relentlessly present are as follows:

  • Protect your attention when you’re with your loved ones. Enjoy the moments reminiscing and dreaming, but don’t forget to live. When you’re with your friends and loved ones, offer everything you can to the moment devoid of distractions. Illustratively, I once allowed my career to become my entire personality (consequently, domineering my social life) but will never again. We should not allow others to cash our time like a check on demand.

  • Safeguard your attention from technology. Turn off notifications for intrusive applications and focus on the conversations and work in front of you. Consciously consider how often you check your phone and start to audit your use of it in general. You may be surprised at how many moments you’re allowing to escape by virtue of a quick check of the email.

  • Operate for moments worth being present in. I don’t suggest that you throw out Netflix binges or time playing video-games. Those might be important to you! With that said, I hope you have friends or loved ones to catch up with. Right now, that might look like a phone or Zoom call for you. In the future, that might be a ladies retreat or a community at the gym. If no one comes to mind, please email and chat with me. The point is this: do things you like, talk to people you love, and experience it all fully.

And so ultimately, yes, this was a verbose way to suggest that you should live in the moment. But that quest is missing the nuance required to lead a life worth living. If anything, I hope you start to consider my bullet points above. For parents, relentless presence might mean maximizing your focus with your children. For others, the motive might be as simple as minimizing regret. For all of us, it’s an intentional life.

There will never be anyone happy with the amount of time lost to their phone, the time spent ruminating over issues at work, and any of the other moments sacrificed to time without regard. Leave the noise of the past and future and appreciate the normality of the present.

The moments you choose to have: please be present in every sense of the word.

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.” — Kurt Vonnegut


Favorite moments

In the interest of the above, I wanted to share a few nice moments from this last week.

Wishing you and yours the best,

Cullin