Last week in this space we talked about the benefits of being ‘fully present’ with your children. I explained that being ‘fully present’ means that you are able to focus fully on your children’s world, their circumstances and their well-being; that you let their needs take priority over other needs, and that you are accessible to them no matter what, relating to them in a way they understand. Today I would like to explore this principle of being ‘fully present’ a bit more, for, as you will soon see, it is part of an important spiritual tool called “Moving In and Stepping Back.”
But let me first reassure you. It is not necessary to commit to being ‘fully present’ 100 % of the time. I’m not even sure that that would be desirable. However, the ability to switch to ‘fully present’-mode at will is a great skill that will benefit both yourself and your kids.
The thing I’d like to focus on here is the quality of your attention when you are ‘fully present’. Obviously, being ‘fully present’ requires your full attention. When you’re changing your baby’s diaper, for instance, you can’t be ‘fully present’ when at the same time you’re watching a show or keeping track of messages on your smart phone. In short, ‘fully present’ means focusing 100 % of your attention on the situation you’re in, and on the people and aspects that are part of it. It’s as if you use a camera’s telephoto lens to zoom in, noticing allthe little details and taking them in. In a way, you infuse the here and the now with your presence. You are no longer ‘on automatic’ - you're fully alert in the here and now. That’s what being ‘fully present’ really means.
Now comes the next step. While keeping your attention fully focused on the present moment you mentally step back and observe what’s happening. It’s as if deep inside of you there is a quiet, contemplative aspect that is able to watch the busy-in-the-now-aspect while it’s doing whatever it’s doing. It’s a simultaneous movement in two directions; as you move deeper in, you also move further back. From this new vantage point you observe all the details of the situation, the dynamics of it, and your feelings about it. By stepping back this way you create space around the activity and around the people and things that are part of it.* Stepping back allows you to truly see the needs, the drives and the expectations involved, and to quietly disentangle from them. And it is this space, thus created, that lets in new light which shines on the present moment and on the people and things that share it with you. It is as if the newly created space has opened doors and invited inspiration to lighten up the present moment.
I’ve chosen the words ‘space’, ‘new light’ and ‘inspiration’ to indicate the sense of clarity and authenticity you will experience. When you inwardly make room while fully focused in the present moment, you invite Life into your experience – Life only needs the smallest space to come bounding in. The following example shows you what I mean.
Mary and her friend Cin, each with their toddler child, are at the local park. They’re busy chatting on a bench on the side of the playground while watching the kids running around.For some reason, Tracey, Mary’s daughter, can’t seem to fully engage in play; she keeps coming back to mommy. First it’s a button on her shirt that’s bothering her, next there is sand in her shoe, and then she throws herself into Mary’s lap, crying because she scraped her knee, etc. Each and every time, Mary, a kind and caring mother, attends lovingly to her daughter, while trying to keep up the conversation with her friend. But after the fifth interruption she starts to get annoyed at Tracey, and so is her friend. How can the spiritual tool of ‘Moving In and Stepping Back’ help Mary in this situation?
Let’s first look at ‘moving in’, or being ‘fully present’. Up till now, during the various interruptions Mary has divided her attention between her daughter and her friend. But now, with the next interruption - Tracey coming to the bench complaining about a boy teasing her – Mary decides to ask Cin for a minute and she focuses entirely on Tracey. She gets down on Tracey’s level and gently and deliberately connects with her. She notices each and every detail of Tracey as if she’s seeing and hearing her for the first time: she notes her eyes, her mouth, her body language, and her words and intonation. Mary may apply some of the techniques of ‘active listening’ by repeating Tracey’s message in new words so Tracey will know her mother has truly heard her. Mary focuses 100 % of her attention on the moment as it presents itself to her: her daughter and the apparent discomfort she is in. Now comes the second step: stepping back. Mary mentally takes a step back and observes herself focused in the present situation. From this new vantage point she notices the dynamics of it, her daughter’s and her own feelings, the drives and expectations that are part of it. As she senses the space around the situation that is thus created, she is able to disentangle from her knee-jerk response as a caring mother, rushing in to soothe her child, as well as her knee-jerk response of annoyance at being disturbed for the umpteenth time. While she hugs Tracey she inwardly embraces the space enveloping them both, knowing that Life will use it to inspire both her and her daughter.
Can you imagine what this suspended moment in time can mean for a mother and child? It allows old hurts to resolve in a new and unexpected way. It allows developmental aspects to be acknowledged and followed up on. It allows mother and daughter to truly connect and be there for each other.
The outcome of a moment in time thus shared is different in each case. Mary may feel moved (inspired!) to join her daughter in play for a while, or she may sense that Tracey’s needs are best met when she allows her to sit in mommy’s lap for a while. Whatever the specific action taken, the key is: Mary is willing to embrace the situation with her whole being (she moves in) and to open up to new and inspired ways to view it (she steps back).
And what about her friend Cin? Well, Cin finds herself in a first row seat from where she witnesses the way the spiritual tool of “Moving In and Stepping Back” enables Mary to love and care for her daughter in a unique and authentic way. After Tracey’s needs have been met and her confidence restored, Cin and Mary will have plenty of time to resume their conversation and catch up without any further interruptions.
Does all this sound a bit theoretical and distant to you? My advice would be to try it and experience it for yourself. If you do, please let me know about it. I would love to hear from you!
* Eckhart Tolle speaks of the space experienced when you are fully in the present moment: "Suddenly there's an inner space around it which frees you from the limitation of the form."