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Being Here

I have a very old Ipod filled with really bad, sped-up versions of disco songs. It’s nothing I’d use for party entertainment, but it’s the perfect companion on morning runs. Recently, though, its age has been evident, and it will inevitably run out of juice long before my run is over. Then I have to take off my headphones, stuff them into my sweatshirt pocket or the waistband of my running shorts, and entertain myself for the remainder of the run. It’s happened two or three times recently and I kind of begrudgingly stow it all away and just slog through the rest of the run. It’s a First World problem, definitely, but it’s annoying.

Still, when it stopped this week, three miles into a five-mile run, right in the middle of It’s Raining Men, I happened to look up to see a patch of daffodils next to the path. Given their size and fullness, they had to have been there for weeks. I run that same route with regularity and I’d never seen them. I’m sure I wasn’t so engrossed in YMCA that it kept me from noticing those bright yellow flowers, but it makes me think. And then, all the way home, I noticed more things—kids riding bikes to school, the angle of the sun, ducks calling to each other on the canal. I was even kind of mesmerized by the sound of my own shoes against the concrete. By the time I got home, I felt like I was aware of every sight and sound around me.

A sweet smile, a generous comment, the geese in their V overhead, and those daffodils. It’s all here all the time and it’s nice to notice it a little more often.

I use the Ipod when I run alone because the tempo of the songs keeps me moving at a good pace and it's actually kind of a distraction from the work of the run. But it started to occur to me that day that this sort of diversion is probably not the best thing for me. Like many parts of my life, it serves as a barrier between me and the rest of the world. I get it that we can’t be constantly conscious and aware, but I also know that it’s almost too easy to escape into our own worlds when we don’t want to interact.

Not long ago, I stood in a fairly short line at Costco. Once I’d situated my basket filled with a lifetime supply of dog treats and paper towels behind the man in front of me, I immediately took out my phone and started scrolling. I’ll be the first to admit that there aren’t a lot of amazing things to experience on a sensory level in the middle of Costco, but there is always a chance for great people watching and even a casual conversation with another human. Instead, I put my head down and retreated into my own world. I do it automatically now, even with my partner and my closest friends. Before cell phones, I reached for the first magazine I could find on the nearest coffee table.

This accidental experiment has made me think in practically every situation I’m in now. What am I doing to keep myself from being present? I'm sure this sounds as if I’m being hard on myself, but I’m really not. More than anything, I’m just aware now of what I’m missing when I check out, and how much losing myself in one of my senses detracts from the others. I noticed it this week when we were eating dinner in front of the TV, engrossed in the newest episode of This is Us. When I focused on the show, I stopped eating. When I was happily engrossed in the stir-fry and rice in front of me, I missed at least a bit of what was being said on television. So much for multi-tasking, even though we do it almost every night.

This morning, I was doing the crossword puzzle and Jodi sat next to me on the bed to tell me about something that was happening at her work. Though I would have sworn I was listening, for at least a minute I didn’t even look up. There is no way I could have truly heard what she was saying. Fortunately, I realized this and set the paper next to me. In the bigger picture—and really even in the smaller picture—interacting with her is more important than practically anything else I can imagine. And yet, I was about to phone it in while I worked on 23-Across.

I’m probably recognizing these small sensory moments because I’m feeling very 66 these days and wanting to grab all the gusto, but I wish we all did it, regardless of our ages. Yet even with that recognition and my new-found interest in trying to be as present as I can be, it takes a few beats in every situation to realize how quickly I check out. I think we all do it, whether it’s with our phones, the TV, or a glass of wine. It’s just not that easy to be fully present. Many of us are introverts—or at least painfully shy—and others of us are just exhausted from what feels like a thousand other interactions.

So I’m practicing now, leaving the Ipod at home when I head out to run, trying to monitor how often I look at my phone. It’s seeing the world with beginner’s eyes and ears. Even knowing this, it still surprises me how much there is to experience around me if I let myself do it. A sweet smile, a generous comment, the geese in their V overhead, and those daffodils. It’s all here all the time and it’s nice to notice it a little more often.

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