The Present of Presence. Or, Why I Like Dots!

It’s the giving season! So, in the spirit of generosity and love, I’m going to give you a hot tip on the perfect present! You can’t get it on Amazon, but it’s the BEST gift you can give. It’s gender neutral, so no worries there! And, once you see the beauty of this precious endowment, you’ll want it, too, I guarantee it!

Growing up, I loved to play the game, Connect the Dots! You know, the puzzle where you get just a few hints at what the picture is and a whole bunch of numbered points? I could connect those dots like nobodies business! Little did I realize that my future mental disposition would mimic my love for Connect the Dots. I’ve learned that one of my superhero powers is the ability to connect seemingly unrelated ideas and concepts. But the downfall, the Kryptonite to my Superman, is that while clustering information I can zone out; my capacity to stay in the present plummets! I mentally disappear. It's awkward, disconcerting and rude!

But, in my Superman-ness, I resisted and continued to engaged in conversation.

Plates clinked and spoons clicked as we inhaled the fresh aroma of coffee. Gurgling, swishing sounds erupted as milk frothed for a latte. Pedestrians morphed into customers who transformed into humans as one-by-one each was duly caffeinated. Receiving my Jekyll and Hyde brew for the morning, I sat across from a trustworthy and valuable friend as we shared victories and challenges. Our conversation was rich, refreshing and long overdue. But as our discussion deepened, more and more dots appeared in my mind. Like fluttering moths, I desired to draw them to a singular flame. But, in my Superman-ness, I resisted and continued to engaged in conversation.

Years ago, I would’ve succumbed to my follies and allowed my mind to drift to far away places. So, for me to remain truly engaged is no easy task. Since I became aware of my mental tendency, I’ve intentionally fought the urge to drift to realms where Dots are king! I’m still in the process of mastering being present, but I’ve gotten better at it. As I do, I’m giving the best gift I have.

I suspect that many people have this same hindrance but for various reasons. Some are just preoccupied; distracted with the worries of this world and concerns of unseen things. I have those, we all do. Others are just uninterested, perhaps self-absorbed. But regardless of the reason the greatest present you can give to anyone is your presence. Being in the moment, listening and paying attention tells others that you give a flip. It sends the signal that they are important and that they are worth your care.

In photography, focus is used to draw attention to a particular point in the image. With everything in focus, that can't happen. The same is true in conversation. This is the image that kept coming to mind as I wrote this post.

What mattered to him was important to me and I didn’t miss a syllable!

As I sipped my last bit of cafe au lait, I was pleasantly full and overflowing; not from coffee, but from my friend. We'd spent nearly two hours absorbing and responding in conversation. It was life-giving, invigorating! I’d effectively fought off the villainous dots that wanted to steal me away to another dimension. A place that engaged my mind but muffled my friend's voice. Instead, in being present with him, not only was my mind enlivened but his voice loud and clear. What mattered to him was important to me and I didn’t miss a syllable! This kind of presence is crucial because people matter!

Here are a few things that I’ve employed to help me Superman my way through conversations.

1. I turn off my cell phone. There’s not much more that bothers me than when I have an appointment and the person spends more time on their phone than with me. It tells me I’m second - perhaps even third or fourth. It drives me nuts to be in the middle of a conversation, and I hear, “Oops, hold on, I need to take this. It’s my husband; he wants to know if the moon will be visible on the third Sunday in May 2021.” Really?
So, when I schedule a meeting with someone I put my cell away and tend to it later.
2. I clear my schedule. Double booking appointments, or stacking them so tightly that I have to be concerned that the first won’t run into the second, is a sure fire way not to be present.
3. I look into their eyes. No, not that way! I purposely make eye contact to stay connected. When I do this, I find my propensity of drifting diminish.
4. I refrain from telling personal stories, unless completely appropriate. I’ve been in conversations where I’m pouring my heart out to someone and I simply want to be heard only to receive a response that strips the focus off of my issue. So, I try hard not to do this. They get the spotlight, not me.
5. I remind myself that people matter, that this person, right now, is my top priority. When I don’t do that, my tendency to see dots increases. What matters to them should be relevant to me.

I can’t say I’ve mastered this, but I do my best to Superman my way past the Kryptonite of Connect the Dots.

So, when you’ve had a rough day, and your four-year-old wants to show you her latest watercolor creation, be present. When your spouse is sharing about his latest endeavor or soon-to-be-dream-come-true, be present. When your worn out neighbor is hurting from life’s beatings, be present. Why? Because people matter! Remember, the greatest present you can give is your presence!

*Have any suggestions for being present? Please share in the comments below.