How to Really Be Present
I have a love-hate relationship with social media and the digital world. The majority of my work happens online, and some of my closest friends began as social media buddies. My husband and I reconnected through LinkedIn and flirted via Twitter. When we eloped, we streamed our dive-bar wedding online so our family could be with us, and my maid of honor was a friend I made in the blogosphere. Some of the dearest people in my life are women I met in a Facebook group.
Social media is also incredibly tempting as a distraction. I go there when I’d rather not feel things in my personal life. For example, instead of dealing with the sadness and grief of losing a loved one, I consume pretty pictures like happy pills. Instead of cleaning the fridge and being productive in much-needed domestic duties, I search for funny GIFs to send to my sisters. When my kids start fighting, I want to tune them out by checking Facebook.
You’d think in almost a decade of dancing this dance, I would have learned how to be in perfect harmony with these two worlds. The truth is, I am only just beginning to find a balance that feels good and nourishing to all the relationships in my life. So far, my practice in yoga and meditation is my greatest teacher. Through slowing down and falling in love with simple breathing practices, I have learned what it really feels like in my body and in my heart to be present and what it feels like when I am not.
A few years ago, my daughter taught me a very important lesson when she said, “Just be here with me, mom!” These words were especially convicting coming from a 3-year-old, who had very few words to express herself. Her plea woke me up and inspired me to make a significant change in my relationship with the screen.
In this digital age, life speeds by us faster and faster, for cheaper and cheaper. How often do we stop and pause and think critically about the consequences of all this speed and information at our fingertips? The Digital Age has been called the age of “Hyper-Connectivity.” This connectivity has the quality of reaching far and wide, but it’s rarely deep and lasting.
What my daughter craved when she asked me to just be here with her is what all of us crave on a soul-level: connection. When I realized this, my family and I started making Sundays our “Digital Sabbaths.” We made a practice of not checking social media on those days and keeping our phones in another room. It was so hard and so good.
Shortly after, I wrote a poem called “The Petition for Presence” and started having more conversations about presence, family, and social media. Other people let me know they struggled in the same areas I did: they wanted a healthier relationship with their digital devices, but they didn’t know where to begin. What started as something just for me evolved into the Just Be Here With Me Project.
Reflecting on your relationship with social media and giving yourself the space to listen and respond to the quieter whispers in your life may be the most important thing you can do for deeper well-being this year. Here are a few ways to really be there with those around you:
Don’t pretend you are powerless.
When it comes to changing the way our lives are, we are more powerful than we think. Each one of us has a choice how we want to exist, and we can choose to redefine our relationship with our phone and be intentional about making new habits. Just as we may choose to occasionally refrain from coffee, sugar, and alcohol, to benefits our bodies, we can do the same thing with social media to benefit our souls. It’s all about taking ownership and responsibility for our health and well-being so that we can thrive in our life and be a blessing to the people we love.
Avoid an “all-or-nothing” approach.
When life feels crazy and out of control, it’s tempting to want to swing to extremes. But the answer isn’t necessarily to do away with all modern technology. This approach isn’t sustainable, and it may lead to an equally unhealthy perspective. A little goes a long way when it comes to reducing social media consumption. Start by choosing one day a week to rest from social media and see how your relationships are affected. Deciding not to check email or social media until after breakfast is another good rule.
Every time I have intentionally chosen to “unplug” for a bit, my whole life benefits, and so do the special people in it, namely my husband and my kids. There is more in common with my brain and a short-circuiting computer than I’d like to admit. Good thing the fix is relatively simple. Anne Lamott wrote, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” It’s so true! Whether I turn social media and technology off for a few minutes or a few weeks, it’s like magic. I function so much better, and as a result, so does the rest of my life.
Set healthy boundaries.
If you’re looking for more practical ways to grow in presence and empower your life with healthy boundaries, try one (or a few) of these:
1. Put your phone in flight mode and turn your internet connection off.
2. Implement the no-phone rule at the dinner table.
3. Don’t check social media out on date nights.
4. Don’t do any digital activities while walking.
5. Don’t do any digital activities while driving (this should be a commitment we all make!)
6. If a certain app or social media platform is too addicting for you, delete it for a week and gain your ground.
7. Choose one week out of every season or one or two months out of every year for a longer digital sabbath.
8. Turn off your social media notifications. Let it be good enough that you posted something. There’s no need to monitor how many likes it is garnishing.
9. Run through this program 1/year and or invest in other ways to be intentional and get the most out of your times set aside for digital detoxing.
10. Start taking your real camera out on adventures with you instead of relying on your iPhone camera.
11. Commit to not talking and typing at the same time. (It’s just impossible to carry on two meaningful and truly authentic conversations at once).
12. Try an app like the Anti-Social App or the Freedom.to App that allows you to choose the times you want peace and quiet, and your computer will instantly disables distractions.
13. Write your own Petition for Presence Poem like the one I wrote below:
Petition for Presence
The moon. The stars. Summer. Your still-hot-cup-of-coffee. Your daughter. Your son. Your lover. Your heart. The green grass. The wild flowers. The waters you long to swim in. The color yellow. The color blue. Your favorite poem. Your favorite blanket. The wind in your hair. The waves in the ocean. The mountain air. Your dad. Your mom. The rain. The ice-cream cone. The butter sizzling with garlic in the frying pan. The grocery clerk with sad, kind eyes. Postcards waiting to be sent. The city squirrel. The country squirrel. Jupiter. The photo album in the attic. Your grandmother’s rosary.Your favorite song. Ink and paper. Your best friend. The money in your wallet. The fork in your hand. Brushes and pain. Downward facing dog. The color turquoise. The almost invisible shade of pink. God. The skyline. The earth beneath your feet. Your passion project. The shade of a giant tree. The moment, right here, now. Your bones. Your belly laugh. Your breath. Your breath. Your breath.
“All love begins in the act of paying attention.” This simple sentence has become my mantra as I pursue a more present life. If we want to grow in love of ourselves, God, and those around us, we have to start by seeing. May each one of us use our energy and power to see and create beauty, reshaping our lives and the world around us along the way.
Morgan Day Cecil wrote the Just Be Here With Me Digital Detox Guide to help other women through the same process she went through to create more presence and joy in their lives.
The step-by-step guide will help you renew your mind and give you powerful personal insights to help you overcome your bad habits. It’s full of journal prompts and simple strategies and a worksheet to help you track your emotions. It also includes the 18x24 “Just Be Here With Me” Printable Art Poster. Readers can use coupon code UPWRITE2017 and get it for only $9 ($50 value).