Lately, I’ve noticed a disturbing pattern in myself. I race into Santa Barbara for a meeting at the Impact Hub, where Leading From Within has its offices. I attend a meeting or two, connect with lots of folks, emerge from the building and…. Wait, where did I park my car? Sometimes it takes me just a moment to remember. But one day last month, it took me more than 10 minutes! That was really humbling.
I’ve read enough about neuroscience and aging to know that occasional forgetfulness is normal for someone in their late fifties. (When you have a parent with Alzheimer’s, as I do, you tend to read a lot on the subject.) But I think at its core, something else is going on.
When I forget where I park my car, it means I was not at all present to the moment when I parked it. Instead, I was focused on the meeting ahead, and/or about being on time to my meeting. But whatever I was focused on, it was NOT on where I was parking my car, and thinking ahead that I would have to return to it later.
So many of us today are habitually disconnected from our moment-to-moment experience. Like when I drive a long distance and have no recollection of the miles along the way. Or when someone asks me what I did yesterday, and I can’t remember. Or when I’m multitasking on my phone while walking to a meeting, only partially aware of where I am and what dangers and opportunities surround me.
Happily, I have another activity in my life that feels like an antidote to disconnection. For the last 12 months, I’ve been practicing yoga three times per week. I started last spring when I was on sabbatical. In my yoga class, we meet for 90 minutes. For 60 minutes, we do the typical yoga postures, and for 30 minutes we do some combination of breathing, meditating and chanting. But for all of it, I am truly present to myself, and also to my body.
Yoga has had a powerful effect on me. First of all, I am much more conscious of what’s going on in my body – where there is an unexplained tightness, an imbalance between one side and the other, or where there is a muscle pull that needs attention. All these are early-warning-signals, and I am more likely now to attend to areas that need some TLC or self-treatment before they get out of hand. It’s been quite a while since I’ve had to go to a physical therapist.
And I notice when I emerge from yoga class, that I am much more present than normal. I hear the birds chirping, I notice what is budding on the trees, and I never, ever have to think about where I parked my car.
We practiced many things in Courage to Lead to cultivate presence – journaling, witnessing nature, listening without responding or fixing, silence, labyrinth walking, yoga, meditation, and more. Our Courage to Lead retreats slowed us down and invited us into a different way of being attentive to ourselves and others.
This “finding my car” problem feels like an invitation I’m receiving to redesign how I head to meetings, and in a way that brings more of those qualities of presence to my day-to-day life. I can imagine this new practice might include:
1) Be like Ernesto – CTL alum Ernesto Paredes has a saying — “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.” My practice has been to time everything so I arrive where I’m going exactly on time. This adds unnecessary stress, and causes me to rush and not be fully present. Instead, I’m going to try to be more like Ernesto, and make a habit out of arriving early.
2) Parking Presence Practice – When I park, it’s an opportunity for me to cultivate a moment of presence. Where am I? What is going on around me? How am I feeling, physically and emotionally? What’s going on in the natural world around me? Breathe deeply, check in with myself and my surroundings, take a mental picture of where I am, and then head on to my meeting.
I can imagine this change in practice may well have material collateral benefits in terms of the quality of the presence I bring to each of my interactions. And I’ll find my car right after meetings, and spend less time feeling like an idiot. That sounds like a win to me!