What does it mean to be present?
Updated: Feb 15
Being present is not something that just magically happens because someone suggests you do it, and in my opinion, it is not something we are born with and just know. I am speaking from my perspective only; from what I have seen, what I have experienced and what I have learned. It takes practice, commitment and intention. I understand that what worked for me, might not work for someone else and you might read my words and roll your eyes or think to yourself, “I can’t do this” but what if you can? Imagine the difference you can make for someone else when you truly learn the art of being present.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and wondered what they said after it was over, or read a book you got 50 pages in before realizing you had no idea what it was about? It is because you checked out, you thought about something else, got distracted, and perhaps even lost interest. For me, being present is learning how to stay focused on what it is I am doing at that time. So I started there. I became aware of when I would drift off and I learned how to bring myself back. I paid more attention to conversations, listening to what was being said, and truly hearing the words being spoken.
Someone told me once to get grounded, which I had to Google. It meant so many different things I had a hard time relating it to being present so I found myself a little confused. And then someone else said, “no silly, feel the ground” and proceeded to teach me how to meditate and connect with the earth, to feel the power beneath my feet, and allow it to help me find balance and peace. This took work, but when I finally felt “it”, it was incredible.
In an effort to continue to learn ways that I can be fully present, I started to attend Healing Touch classes, which is an energy-based approach to health and healing, it helped me to really connect with the energy of another. I have read that some say hospice and Healing Touch is a “match made in heaven” and I have to agree. I was first introduced to Healing Touch when our volunteers would come and without words or touch, were able to calm an agitated patient who was struggling in their last hours of life. They would bring a sense of peace and comfort that medication was not capable of doing. I would sit back quietly in awe of their ability to connect so deeply to someone else, simply by being present. And while it is a true benefit to our patients, it also brought comfort to those at the bedside. Healing Touch works on anyone, whether they are near death or not.
I wanted to have my own personal “rituals” that would help me to achieve being present before seeing my patients, so I started by taking a few deep breaths before entering a patient’s room, shaking off whatever might be weighing on me, heavy or otherwise. Making sure that when I walk into someone else’s space, I am 100% there. Once I started being completely present, I realized that I wasn’t just listening, I was hearing and I wasn’t just seeing, I was feeling, and most importantly, I made this about them, and not me.
Another thing I have found to be really helpful, at least for me, is reflection. I start each day setting 9 intentions for my day, whether it is to be more patient, or less judgmental, or to not yell at horrible drivers. And at the end of the day, I reflect. I think about the day, the people I saw and the things I did, the patients I cared for and the deaths I might have attended. I reflect on how I felt at whatever experience might have transpired and I work through it. I have found that when I do that, I do not carry it into the next day or with the people and paths I might come across. It reduces my distractions and allows me to be more focused.
For me, being present in my work, means being totally committed to someone else, at their time of need, honoring them with the very best care and compassion to allow for a death that can truly be called peaceful, beautiful and good. Being present means sitting quietly at the bedside, saying absolutely nothing, except for “I am right here” when they flinch in pain, or moan or cry out for someone to acknowledge they are not alone. Being present means being fully aware of what is going on around me, it means not projecting my energy onto someone else, and it means not allowing outside forces to effect the peacefulness I find or thrive for, within.
Being present for me outside of work, means to be a better listener, and to pick up on that moment when my friend or family member is asking for my help. It means to learn when I’ve pushed myself too far or too hard and did not set boundaries, which can only bring on stress or anxiety. It means listening to my body, and taking care of me, something I am constantly working on. And most of all, it means to remember that everything is not about me. I admit it; I am a constant work in progress.
I have many “rituals” that work for me; I take a lot of deep breaths, I plant my feet firmly on the ground, I wiggle my toes and my fingers and I shake off anything that might be distracting and I embrace the moment completely. That is what being present means to me. To be trusted at the bedside of someone nearing the end of their life is an honor and I believe that in order to respect that gift, it is our responsibility to be fully and completely present for them. I understand now what that means.
I want to share with you something that has really resonated with me. It is a book called Vigil, The Poetry of Presence, by Pamela Heinrich MacPherson. She is a hospice volunteer who has done beautiful work, which her words reflect so wonderfully. www.vigilpoetry.com
From her poem “Winding Down”
Time. It takes time.
An open-hearted, focused presence
Is what we can bring.
A compassionate and loving gift
In these last days, hours and moments.
It is all.
It is sacred.
It is enough…