This Week in Intentional Living

“As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life.”
– Gautama Buddha

“We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.”
– Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes)

Be where you are.

That’s the best advice I’ve ever heard, and it’s the best thing I can tell you.

Now, you might read this and think to yourself, “Where else would I be? This is where I am, and I can’t be in more than one place, can I?” On one hand, this is the simplest thing anyone could tell you – be where you are. “OK, got that one, I’m here, thanks Harv!”

But I think you know what I mean. Sure, your feet are (or, more likely, your butt is) planted at specific geographic coordinates, and that’s technically where you are.

Being where you are is one of the hardest things we can do. It’s so much easier to “multitask,” or just to let yourself drift. To be in the middle of a conversation with a friend and find yourself working on your to-do list in your mind. To check your email while having breakfast with your kids.

It’s easy to blame this drift on modern life. Note, however the first quotation above. You know when Buddha said that? About 2,500 years ago. Before texting, before email, before the interwebs. Before phones or faxes. Before Netflix.  Before microwave ovens took our attention away from the food we cook and eat, before automobiles and airplanes took us away from our homes.

What I’m saying is that this lack of focus, this inability to be where we are, it’s a problem of the human condition, not a problem of modern life.

Be where you are. Remember a few weeks ago when we were talking about slowing down long enough to breathe? I wrote then that I think of breath (life) is a divine gift. Which means wherever you are right now, whatever you’re doing, you’re using that gift of breath from God to be there. And if, instead of using that breath to do the best you can where you are, your mind is on whatever else you could be doing … well, that’s not showing a lot of gratitude for the gift, is it?

Let’s say you’re not a believer in any particular faith tradition. Atheist, agnostic, one way or another you just don’t believe in that “divine gift” stuff. In your case, it’s that much more important to be where you are. The advice from Buddha and Calvin (or is it Hobbes?) is even more important if your entire existence is limited to a few decades. If that’s the case, you’d better get focused, and right now!

And that’s what this is really about: Focus. Being fully present. Being there with the people you’re with, the work you’re doing, the nap you’re trying to take, the lunch you’re eating.

It’s a remarkable thing, focus. It’s what gets your best work done. It’s what gets novels written, paintings painted, buildings designed, etc. Shakespeare wasn’t checking his email while he was writing Hamlet. Van Gogh wasn’t revising his Amazon wish list while he was painting Starry Night. (Yeah, I know, give me a little poetic license.)

Great work doesn’t get done while you’re trying to do seven different things at once. Think about the last great thing you accomplished. Were you checking your to-do list, sending texts and planning dinner while you were doing it? Of course not. You were there. You were fully present to the work in front of you.

Being where you are gives you the chance to let your mind do its best work. You’ve been there. Those rare moments when everything else just kind of falls away and you dive into what you need to do – what you want to do – what you do best. It’s almost like falling in love.

Speaking of which, how many of you can honestly say you can “multitask” while falling in love? Generally speaking, that’s a process that gets your attention pretty clearly. Imagine applying that level of focus to whatever you’re doing all the time.

Thinking of it another way, have you ever missed – by just a fraction of an inch – while hammering a nail and pounded your thumb? I can’t think of many things able to bring me back to where I am more abruptly and clearly than intense pain. Not that I recommend you hammer your thumb. I just want you think about what focus really means.

Being where I am helps me eat healthier and with greater intention. How many times have you absent-mindedly munched your way through a bag of chips? How many fast-food meals have you missed almost entirely while you “multitasked” (You may be getting the point by now that I don’t have much use for the concept of “multitasking.”). Let me suggest that if you are fully present and aware of what you’re doing, your body will tell you the chips are a bad idea a long time before you find the bottom of the bag. And you won’t eat many more fast-food meals if you give your taste buds and your belly a chance to ruminate on that Big Mac.

Conversely, how many great meals have you missed because you were somewhere besides in front of your lobster? Make the effort to show up and actually taste your food, and you’ll find yourself making better food choices.

If none of the positive benefits of being where you are can convince you to slow down and pay attention, think of how irresponsible – and disrespectful – your lack of mental presence is to the people around you. Who is more important to you – the person sitting in front of you in conversation or the person sending you a text? If you’re waiting for a text that important, you probably shouldn’t be wasting your time in idle conversation in the first place.

Don’t you owe it to your boss/client/customer/etc. to be fully present in your job rather than playing Farmville or reading a blog (Any blog but this one, of course. You get a pass for this one.)?

If you have kids, parents, a significant other – or even pets – don’t you owe them your presence if you’re sitting right next to them? Or would you rather teach your kids that the machine in your pocket is more important than they are?

Harsh? Yes. And I’m not going to pretend I meet the high standard I’ve illustrated. But I’m working on it. I am completely convinced that being where I am, being fully present and focused on the matter at hand, whatever it may be, makes everything better.

That Buddha guy was onto something. I don’t want to miss my life by being somewhere else all day long every day.

Be where you are. It’s the best advice I can give you.



One response to this post.

  1. […] most of us have insanely busy lives (which is a whole different health issue – check out my regular Sunday feature), we need the local supermarket to be our one-stop for nutrition.  Here are five ways we can help […]


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