The most precious gift we can offer another is our presence.
— Thich Nhat Hanh.
Happy New Year! Last week we entered the hope and promise of another year. I write this first blog post of 2016 from my room at New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California where I am on silent retreat for several days. Every year, I take several days to sit in silence, leave the electronics behind, take a break from social media and reset my hard-drive mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally. But 2015 was such a busy year, that I missed doing one of the things that feeds me most−taking my annual retreat.
Like many others, I’ve never experienced a busier year than I did in 2015. In the midst of launching a new book, traveling over 50,000 miles on a book tour, and running a busy coaching practice, at Thanksgiving we moved my 85 year old mother from her home in Texas to be near us in California. This required packing up her house filled with a life-time of possessions and relocating her 1500 miles away from the only home she’d ever known. This past year, I felt like I was on a speeding train, and all I could see outside the windows was the wisp of colors and shapes speeding by. The truth was, when I moved at that pace, I wasn’t thriving because I wasn’t able to be present to my life and to those I loved and cared about in the ways that I wanted to be there for them. What I learned this past year is that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
After my Mom’s move and a very busy Christmas with a three and four year old, my well had run completely dry. By the time the clock turned midnight on New Year’s Day, I was so looking forward to embarking for my annual refuge at the top of the mountain for a few days before embarking on 2016. I was committed to making the changes I needed to make in my life so I could be more present.
Two important events occurred this past week that served as bookends to remind me of that promise. On New Year’s Day, we went to my Mother’s new apartment to help her unpack more boxes. Our visit was shoehorned between two other commitments that day. The consummate project manager, I found myself barking orders about what pictures needed to be hung and where. It was a crisp, but sunny day outside. At one point, my Mother asked, “It’s such a beautiful day outside. Could we just take a break for five minutes and go sit out on the porch?” I made an empty promise to do so when we finished our tasks, but we ran out of time and had to leave for our next commitment.
I awakened in the middle of the night remembering the look in my Mother’s eyes and her desire to just stop and be still. I felt horrible. I didn’t like the person I was becoming. I was like a drill sergeant checking off boxes of my “to do” list for things that at the end of day, mattered very little. So when I got up the next morning, I called her, apologized, and told her I would do my best to remember to make the time to stop and smell the roses with her more frequently this year. I am so blessed to have the gift of being able to spend more time with her in her final years, and I realized I was squandering that blessing by making getting things done a higher priority than enjoying our time together.
My second reminder occurred last night as I was awakened numerous times by a howling storm outside my window. My room sits on the top of a mountain overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean, so there was little to shield me from the fury of the storm. As torrents of rain buffeted the ceiling, the screened doors slammed repeatedly up and down the walkway from the raging wind. I was reminded of the year when we experienced a long El Niño in the winter of 1997. At the time, I was very ill and unable to work. As I listened to the rain hit the ceiling of our condo during one of those storms that winter, I started weeping, as I realized it was the first time I’d ever stopped long enough to listen to the rain. It was a reminder at the time to change the way that I’d been living and I set on a course to be more present in my life.
So this year, I am recommitting to that vow of living a life that’s less compressed so I can be more present. That includes taking the time to laugh more, to love more, to write more, to “be” more and to “do” less. I am committing to take the time to stop and listen to the rain and to sit on the patio with the people I love. In a word, my intention is to cherish each precious moment of life I am given and to take more time to stop and listen to the rain.
As you begin this new year of hope and promise, what are you committing to? In what ways and with what people do you seek to be more present? What is one thing you can do today to help you do that? How might that change the quality of how your life unfolds this year?