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  • The (Upside and) Downside of Being Fully Present

    yoga on the beach

    We’re often told that our life will be happier and more fulfilling if we’ll just be present for what we have in the here and now. We’re told that suffering is caused by longing for things to be some way other than how they are.

    Benefits of Being Present

    There’s a lot to be said for that sentiment. For instance, we’re currently having one of the hottest summers on record and people are gnashing their teeth because it’s too hot, too humid, or both. These are the same people who complain about the heat every summer, so it’s not a complaint that’s isolated to record setting temperatures. They’re clearly suffering because, year after year, Mother Nature refuses to maintain their ideal weather conditions. They want something other than what Mother Nature gives them every July and August.

    At my house, however, we’re not complaining. We’re hot, don’t get me wrong. We don’t have central air, so some days we’re damn hot. Despite the heat, though, we haven’t put the window AC unit in the upstairs bedroom yet. You see, a few years ago we accepted that we will sometimes be really warm in the summer. Year by year, it has become easier to “tolerate” the heat because we don’t expect to be a cool, comfortable 75 degrees in August. Our perspective shifted: We realized that the weather is what it is, and wanting it to be otherwise won’t do us any good. It’s amazing how comfortable you can be at 80 or even 85 degrees if you’re not expecting it to be 75. Besides, in just a few months we’ll be bracing against the icy temps of winter. I’m gonna enjoy the warmth while we have it.

    Don’t get me wrong though, we’re not masochists. We wear fewer and lighter clothes in the summer. We use ceiling fans, window fans, and strategic closing/opening of shades/curtains/windows to modulate the temperature inside the house. We also decided that if we got too uncomfortable to sleep, we’ll put the window AC unit in. I’ve come to enjoy summer in a way I never did before… when I focused so many thoughts on how much better it would be if it were only 10 or 20 degrees cooler.

    The Downside

    The downside is difficult to notice until it’s too late. It happens gradually so you don’t see it coming. You’re just there, wherever you are, doing your thing, being in the moment and being pretty content overall. Then… one day… Bam!… Something in your environment shifts, because someone else wasn’t as accepting as you, and you’re suddenly really uncomfortable. Like it’s now so cold that the hair on your arms is standing up, it’s so hot you feel like you might pass out, or you gag on the coffee because you were expecting to be able to drink it without having to chew it first.

    Today, I had my first real experience with the downside of being present for what is. I got mad at another business owner in my suite (don’t know which one) for not being as “present” and accepting as I am and complaining about the temp in our suite. I may have silently called them a very disparaging word that insinuated they are weak in every regard. (I can be a self-righteous a-hole, can’t I? *hangs head in shame*)

    Management responded and turned the AC up so that the temp dropped one degree. My office had been a bit chilly before, but nothing the table warmer and fleece blanket couldn’t counteract for my clients (or so they said, anyway). That 1 degree drop, however, caused the hair on my arms to stand on end and my hands to feel cold when I touched them to my arm. This was unacceptable!

    I went through a couple hours of 1) being angry at the person who asked for the suite to be cooler, 2) being unable to concentrate on anything, no matter how hard I tried to distract myself from my anger, and 3) finally sitting/walking with my feelings until I realized that I was actually mad at myself for not going to management weeks before when I began feeling a bit chilly. But I was chill (pun intended). I was present for what is. I was not going to fight reality… Until reality began to feel like a freezer.

    So what I’ve come to realize is that it’s still great to “be present” and “accept what is” whenever possible. But… when other people are involved, as in an office situation, you need to be very careful that “accepting” isn’t actually “enduring” by a nicer, more spiritual name. Turns out, I was enduring for the last couple weeks. I had been tempted to go to building management and ask about turning off the fan or turning it down in my office, but I was so attached to the idea that I was ‘accepting what is’ that I failed to take into consideration that something as small as a 1 degree drop in temp could take me from being able to accept the situation, to being totally unable to tolerate it. Lesson learned. (I hope.)

    To sum up: If you are truly comfortable, even if things aren’t ideal for you, you’re present in the moment. If, after allowing time for acclimation to whatever situation, you realize you are actually uncomfortable (in my case, continually wanting to rub my chilly arms) even if you can tolerate it, you maybe shouldn’t try so hard to be present and should take steps to change the situation… like I’m going to do by speaking to the building manager about the temp in the suite and the vent in my office.

    Now it’d be great if you were present enough for this blog post to hit one of the share buttons below and let others read it too.

3 Responsesso far.

  1. I just mentioned to my Mentor how confusing the line can be between a need to accept what is vs. take strong action. She said, with a hint of sarcasm, “You ever heard of the serenity prayer?” And I replied “Oh stop right there. Of course I must do everything I can FIRST to change what I don’t want – I have to have the courage to give it all I’ve got! It is only when I am powerless and can do nothing that I need to practice acceptance of what is and let go of my need to control!” So yeah – you can add fans or air conditioning and change your home temp. And you can request adjustments in your office – just as your colleague requested adjustments. So everyone can change the things they can. But we all have to accept the blazing sun or the frigid snow ultimately. At least this is how I understand it so far. And I need to see it from this angle – because taking precise action to make my life what I want it to be enlivens me and that is where I need to be a good 70% of the time. The other 30% of the time . . . Well you know, I just need to chill and let it be! (No pun intended:)

  2. This post was an important read for me and it makes me think of two things:

    1) My husband and I are musicians. We had our first experience with a concert where no one showed up to hear us in 2005 at a church in Duluth, MN. The pastor of the church and the two of us were just sitting there pathetically on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in July in his empty church and he asks, “you know the serenity prayer right?” I’m already rolling my eyes and he says without flinching, “F*@!# IT.” I was absolutely floored, but also relieved. We all busted out laughing.

    2) I like the way Eckhart Tolle explains in his book “The Power of Now” how to balance boundary setting/action with inner presence, he says “Do what you have to do, but in the meantime be in the present moment.” This is a nice way to think about awareness, that is is an extension of our own inner authority/owning of ourself.

  3. Part 2 of your comment reminds me that I need to read The Power of Now. It’s been on my reading list for a long time, but I never seem to get around to reading it. Your quote from it is the perfect reminder. Thanks!