Are you there God? It’s me, Jenny.

Do you truly see the snowflakes falling one by one from the sky? Can you see the white puffs settling on every branch that is exposed? When you touch the snow do you feel a heavy wetness that packs in your hand? Can you feel memories of your childhood and feel your body lying on the snow-packed ground raising arms up and down and moving legs together and apart because a snow angel is a glorious thing? The cold wetness that seeps in your boot because you didn’t seal up the snow pant to the boot well enough, and the laughter as you dodge a snow ball to the head.

Stepping outside to feel this mid-April snow fall is spectacular. There are birds chirping and flying about while there is a wintery blizzard before our eyes. I wonder if they are as  confused as we are. I was going to name this blog post something like “Are you truly present” but changed it to “Are you there God? It’s me, Jenny.” after the Judy Blume book from 1970 Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It just rolled off my tongue and I like the subtle connotation.

We were present as children. When I became an adult, I did not get the concept of being truly present and in the moment. I felt the days and even minutes going by in a flash with crazed busyness and constant brain overload. I packed as much as I could in to my busy schedule and my mind and body suffered. Being the best at everything was all I could think about. Excellent career. Fit body/dating material. Mom of envy. I definitely did not see the snowflakes.

Was I really listening to the co-worker, my child, the professor during class? Or was my brain jetting back and forth from topic to topic and thing-to-do to thing-to-do?

  • Why did my mom keep telling me to go with the flow?
  • Why did my boss tell me to slow down when I sent an email that wasn’t meant for the audience I sent it to?
  • Why did my ex-husband tell me to slow down and get “laid”?
  • Why was I annoyed when things didn’t go as planned or the way I wanted them to go?
  • Why did a boyfriend tell me I am too blunt?

I wasn’t living with presence. I wasn’t present.

I have studied this concept for about 5 years. I knew when I had a full blown panic attack on a Monday morning while driving my kids to school, that I had to change something. (Panic attack for another story). Here are 5 things I do to be present – there are many more, but these are my most effective practices. I have not had a panic attack since.

  1. Breathe

This is the #1 thing that has brought me to presence in this world. My breath. Breathing. It seems so simple. In through the nose and fill up as far as you can, hold, let it all out until there is not a drop left in your lungs. Try it. It is euphoric. Many times I will lift my arms up high above my head, look to the sky on an inhale and then drop my arms to my heart in a prayer pose, on exhale. Your mind follows your breath. Notice it. Is it because we are full of life when we are breathing? Or because we are in a sort of meditative trance?  What I know now, I wish I had known before; I wasn’t breathing at all. I was taking in enough oxygen to survive but I was not breathing.

  1.  Yoga

Sure I was a hippy in college. Was I a yoga student? Not at all. When I practiced in my 20’s it was to get in better shape and had zero to do with my mind. I literally wanted to run out of class during Savasana so I could get on to my next task. If that doesn’t tell you how I was living, I don’t know what will.

Savasana is the final pose of a yoga practice meant to completely relax every muscle in your body, calm your mind and reflect on your practice. You are fully awake, but in complete silence and stillness. A quote from Karson McGinley of The Chopra Center says this:

“With the world moving so quickly, cultivating the art of Savasana is more valuable     than ever. Our society tends to place greater value on speed and productivity; learning how to do nothing is a skill that can help you become more productive when you need to be. Savasana helps us learn how to completely surrender, stop fighting the clock, and make space for peace and harmony to fill the soul. Savasana is like turning off your computer when it’s acting up. Once you reboot it, the computer often has greater functionality.”

I now practice yoga regularly. I do it for the mind-body connection that I am awarded. The fluid flow of one pose to the next with your breath along with the challenge of getting better and stronger, make it the perfect outlet for quieting a busy mind and to practice presence. I literally have done a forward fold and have teared up. I won’t go in to that but there is a serious connection to emotions during a yoga practice.

  1.  Listen

What is worse than someone you are talking to, whether a co-worker, a friend, or a family member, asks you a question and as you respond, they drift off to something else. They drift to their phone, in to their own mind, or to something else supposedly more engaging to them. Knife to the heart, is what that is. They are not listening to you. They are not present. We have all been there as the sender and the receiver. Practicing full presence when engaging with someone else (or others) is a very important inter-personal skill and incredibly important for presence and authenticity.

I walked in to a co-worker’s office one day and he asked about a family matter. I felt really honored and loved that he cared enough to ask. When I started to tell him, he was gone. He was looking at his phone and heard nothing I said. I know because I walked out of his office mid-sentence. Not only does listening make you present for the other person, it also allows you to practice your own presence, focus and connection. Try it. When you are talking to someone, don’t think about what you are going to respond. Listen. Truly listen. Put down your device or anything else you are doing and just be in the moment.

  1. Simplify

Delegate. Get a cleaning service. Get a lawn and snow removal service. Only have one credit card. Use auto-bill pay. Get a home delivery meal service. Use the Dash Button from Amazon. De-clutter. Take a breath and be in the moment and don’t worry about what isn’t getting done. If you don’t want to pay for services there are free ones and easy ways to simplify including organizing your to-do list, calendar and finances. This topic would be an entire book or post on its own but I work every day to simplify so I can be present with everything else in my life and enjoy a bike ride around the lake with the sun gleaming on my face, without thought and worry or constant archiving of what I have to do.

  1.  Notice

When I say notice, I mean really notice. It takes a lot of practice to get yourself to be in the now and noticing all of the little details of life. The snowflakes. The birds chirping. I was on a run the other day and during the entire run I took myself out of my mind and practiced noticing everything around me and in my body.  The smell of the puddles from snow melting, the many different bird chirping sounds and the sound of pecking on a tree, from a woodpecker. Just the sound of my breath, my shoes hitting the gravel-grazed pavement and the birds. Once in a while there was a breeze through my ears. This run kept me in the moment. I just noticed everything and did not think about work or life to-do’s. 30 minutes of pure presence.

 

You can live life one second at a time and be thoroughly fulfilled if you slow down and admire every detail in front of you. Snowflakes.

 

Letter from Grandpa Choo Choo

Divorce tends to break apart extended family relations. Until a month ago, I had not talked to my ex-husband’s father in about 5 years. Recently I was awarded full time placement of my two boys and their Grandpa, Grandpa Choo Choo (because he loves model trains), reached out to me to foster his relationship with Jaden and Reece. Here is a letter he wrote them that I found incredibly meaningful, educational and heartfelt. We can all learn from this and appreciate all that we have and get off our damn devices! (Devices have nothing to do with this letter).

March 31, 2018

Hi Jaden and Reece

Here are some more old-time things that you might think are funny. Let me know what you think. First are some sayings that people used in everyday conversation when I was a kid:

Busier than a horse’s tail in fly time.

Make hay while the sun shines.

Feel like I came out the little end of the horn (that would be a powder horn)

Run like the Devil is chasing you.

Oh mercy me.

Well I declare!

Well, well, well, look who’s here.

If a kid had bad manners, somebody might remark: Looks like a bitch got over the wall. 

Guys, I grew up in Brodhead (WI) in a house built by my great-grandparents. They are your great-great-great-great grandparents. Family habits and traditions remained strong. Indoor plumbing was installed in that house in 1914, but nobody acted like the kitchen sink could hold water or had a drain. We had two tin dish pans. One would have water with dish soap, the other was plain rinse water. Mom would heat water in a tea kettle on the stove (which burned wood or coal) and pour the warm water into the tin pans. When we were done washing dishes, we wouldn’t pour the water from the pans down the drain. One of us would take each pan outside and throw the water off the end of the porch because that’s the way it had always been done. In the spring after the snow melted I would go out there and look for stuff that got thrown out with the dish water. There would always be a couple forks and spoons, and sometimes a coffee cup. Ha!

The first refrigerator in that house was bought in 1935. It lasted until mom bought a new one in 1968, and that one was still being used when I sold the house in 1997 – so two refrigerators lasted almost 60 years. Before refrigerators, food was kept cold in an ice box. Every few days the “ice man” would come with a truck (horse and wagon before that) and bring in another chunk of ice to put in the ice box. So we never called our refrigerator a “refrigerator.” It was always called the “ice box.” I didn’t start using the word “refrigerator” until I went away to college.

We didn’t have a garage. The house had a two-story carriage barn out back. The downstairs had room for a buggy and two horses. The upstairs was where hay and other horse feed was kept. There were two trap doors in the upstairs floor where food could be dropped into the horse’s feeding troughs. So we always called it the barn. It was hard for me to get used to the word “garage.” If you were to go in that barn today, it would still smell like horses though the first car was kept there starting in about 1920. The horses, of course, peed on the wooden barn floor and you never get that smell out of the wood. If you didn’t already know that, listen to me now – don’t pee on wooden floors! Ha, ha.

I guess that’s all the wisdom I will share for one day.

Love you guys.

Greetings from Grandma pat, too.

Grandpa Choo Choo

 

Jaden and Reece listened as if I was reading the most interesting and coolest excerpt from Stranger Things or Flash. They smiled and they laughed. The were confused by the naughty word “bitch” but I explained to them that the formal definition of that word is a female dog; they made a face that told me they learned something new and were satisfied.

Learning from our elders and from others is the greatest gift we have. Listening and truly listening is what makes us better and more compassionate humans.