I work part-time in a local pharmacy and recently I was ringing up the purchases of one of our regular customers. As I handed her the items she had just bought, she said, “It’s so refreshing to come in here because everyone is always fully present.”
I smiled and thanked her for her purchase and then thought about what she had said during the rest of my shift. When I got home that evening, I googled the phrase “fully present” to see what the vast, internet world would tell me it meant.
According to the book Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness by Susan L. Smalley and Diana Winston, the phrases fully present or practicing mindfulness mean “the art of paying attention with an open and curious mind to present-moment experiences.” In other words, it means living in the moment without worrying about the past or the future. The idea comes from Buddhist teachings but has attracted many practitioners from both within and outside the Buddhist tradition.
We were in stores more than usual last month getting ready for the Christmas holidays, and I remember on multiple occasions the cashiers ringing up our purchases and saying “thank you” without ever making eye contact. Perhaps they were simply tired but they appeared to be mentally in some other place. When the body language doesn’t match the words, the words seem hollow and less meaningful.
Being mindful is something I have deliberately tried to practice in my life because it seems both polite and the right way to treat others. During the years when my children were growing up, it was often difficult to be fully present all the time. While my body was there caring for them and their needs, my mind was often racing ahead planning and trying to figure out how I was going to get everything done that I needed to do each day. I wonder how many special moments in the present I might have missed while I worried about the future?
The reason both of my grandmothers played such an important role in my life was that they were both fully present whenever I was with them. Their complete and undistracted attention made me feel very valued and loved by them.
Being fully present with others is even more difficult today in this world full of electronic devices and social media. Something is always ringing, dinging or pinging to take our attention away from those who are in the flesh right next to us. And, it seems to be becoming more and more socially acceptable to ignore those who are with us in order to pay attention to our cell phones or electronic tablets and laptops. But it isn’t acceptable at all.
There are still rules which define appropriate behavior and good manners. The rules expect us to be fully in the moment with others in social situations. What a gift we give to other people when we give them our full, undivided attention. It tells them they are important to us, we appreciate them, and we want to hear what they are saying and thinking.
In 2016, I am attempting to be fully present during my interactions with others. That means not worrying about what happened yesterday or what I have to do tomorrow or what is going on with my electronic devices, when I have the chance to talk with the people in my life.
Do you think this is important and if so, how do you practice the art of mindfulness and be fully present?