What “Presence” Feels Like

A friend once said that what she loves about travel, is that every time you go on a trip, you are changed forever.  She is so right. We see and experience things when we go to places we’ve never been that simply cannot happen by armchair travel through a Google search.  This summer, I had an extraordinary opportunity to go to Africa--and it was one of those trips that changed me in ways I am still synthesizing. We started in Malawi,  where I met 3 young Malawian women who have created remarkable organizations dedicated to keeping girls in school in order to help them become more self-sufficient. We next went to Botswana and Zimbabwe to go on a river safari and see the magnificent Victoria Falls. In South Africa, I had the inspiring honor of delivering a time management workshop to 240 South African youth who are scholars with the Make a Difference Foundation. This was an adventure of a lifetime and I discovered so much along the way. 

Perhaps the most unexpected moment of the trip was during a morning drive we took along the Chobe River that winds through the Northern portion of Botswana. It was so quiet and everything around us was still. We drove for quite a while without seeing any wildlife. As I looked around, all I saw were trees, the still river, the plains, and the rising sun. The scenery was beautiful, but I was yearning to see what we had ventured all this way to witness. Wild animals. As the animals were waking up, we saw a single bird fly by itself to a little spot on the river, where it landed to peacefully enjoy it’s morning meal and reflection. The whole world in a single quiet moment. If only we took more time to pause and look around, we would discover what is really happening in the moment. We will never discover everything there is to know and experience, but if we stay present, there is so much to find.  

Simply put, being in “the moment” means that you are marveling at the newness and presentation before you. You are just reacting, not anticipating or worrying about anything. Free of distraction, obligation or regret, being in “the moment” means that you’ve escaped (at least temporarily) the clatter of voices in your head. There is an easy, welcome desire to take advantage of each minute, because there will never be another one just like it.

Of course, being in the moment is neither easy to attain or sustain.  But to boost our chances, and get back to presence when we slip into auto-pilot, it helps to define what being present feels like. Remarkably, “the moment” feels about the same for everyone. Here are five ways you know when you’re in the moment: 

  • All senses are firing on five cylinders. Your sense of smell, sight, hearing, taste and touch are extraordinarily keen. You pick up on things (the smell of coffee, the heat of the sun) that usually wouldn’t get a second thought. There is a special-ness to each thing you encounter that wasn’t there before. 

  • The world is in high resolution. Ever sit at a tiny table in a crowded restaurant and feel like you and your dinner partner are the only people in the room? That’s precisely what being in “the moment” feels like. The sky looks a little bluer, the grass a little greener and you notice the details of your everyday environment (street signs, the variety of flowers in your neighbor’s flower boxes, the color or your cat’s eyes.) 

  • Full engagement. Whatever you are doing commands your full attention, whether you’re at work, at home, with you children, on a date, or at the gym. Outside thoughts don’t creep into your conscience as you devote 100 percent focus to your current activity. 

  • Time flies. This fully engaged state means that time flies; but in the best possible way. There’s no anxiety about “running out of time” or “time wasted.” Curiously absent from your mind is the restlessness that usually has you checking the clock.

  • Feel enthusiasm and excitement for whatever you are doing. When you’re in the moment, everything you do is buoyed by a sense of irrepressible enthusiasm. From the smallest experience (mowing the lawn or going to your daughter’s little league game) to the largest (getting married or having a child) is exciting.  You’re able to be enthusiastic about every moment. 

I am still processing the many ways in which my trip to Africa changed me,  but one goal I have is to carry the lesson of that memorable morning with the bird forward as I walk head-on into fall. To pay closer attention to the many extraordinary moments that occur every single day all around me. To not assume there’s nothing exciting to see, but to look up during my commute to the office and throughout my workday.  To notice in every speech and workshop I deliver...when someone in the audience connects with a technique that solves the very challenge they came into the room with--and a breakthrough occurs. We are all that bird, going out every day in search of what we need, and when we find it, how nice it is to be still and savor the moment.