The Greatest Gift: Presence

candlelight-photography2Be present in your life.

It sounds like such an obvious statement, but in truth, often I feel detached from myself and my own thoughts … and sometimes even my own life.

I find it interesting that one of the biggest tenets of Judaism is that God is everywhere, in the here and now. Though I wouldn’t say I’m particularly religious, I do feel very spiritual. I interpret this to mean that by proxy, we, as humans, ought to be present in the here and now.

And I worry that this lack of presence could be sabatoging me.

I’m an excellent multi-tasker (many anxious people are) but it’s hard for me to sit still or just allow myself to be caught in a moment without thinking five steps ahead (I’d say it began when I was little — I can remember being on fantastic family vacations, wondering where we were headed next — if we were at Disney, when would we be going to SeaWorld? And if we had a lollipop now, could we still have a treat at night?!).

Even today, if I’m sitting in a meeting, my mind is thinking of the to-do list on my desk and the three things I forgot to check off, the email in my DRAFTS folder, the fact that the oatmeal I had that morning that was just “eh,” how I liked my husband’s new shoes we just bought but maybe we should have chosen them in the darker brown … My mind is so rarely in the here and now.

And when my husband and I were long-distance international (for about five years) I literally lived for our visits every couple of months. (friends and family can attest to this — thanks for bearing with me!).

Being apart was so unbelievably hard, then when we had a trip booked (me visiting him or him visiting me) the excitement and anticipation would build, I’d fly high leading up to it, then we’d be soooo happy to see each other …

And then within a couple days of being elated, I’d always fall into the trap of having trouble focusing on the present, the here and now, knowing the agony that was to be upon us in 5, 7, 9 days when one of us would have to return back to our respective countries.

Because it was inevitable. Bliss, followed by agony. Over and over again. Year after year.

I’d be left to deal with the emptiness. If it was him leaving, it was the last meal out together, last visits with family, seeing the suitcases lined up. The pillow left with his head imprint. The clean sock that got mixed into my laundry. The half-drank container of OJ sitting in the fridge with no one to drink it. The little note tucked into his bookbag that I’d scribbled when he wasn’t looking. Remnants of a life together.

And then the long drive to Dulles Airport, the long, tearful goodbye, and the hysterical ride back home (or to work).

And if it was me leaving, it was the dreaded hour-long right to the airport. Passing the palm trees and seeing the ocean in the distance, knowing that in a few hours I’d be flying high above the Pacific; I always felt like I was “leaving him behind” and it killed me.

It was us sitting at the airport restaurant we always went to at Comalapa Airport, to spend another hour together before I would have to leave, poking at our pancakes or eggs with a fork, neither of us having any appetite and dreading the 60 minutes, then 40 minutes til the imminent boarding time. Gazing at each other because we didn’t know when we’d be together again next.

And then the agonizing walk to pass through security where, always in tears, make-up strewn all down my face, I’d run back for just one more hug … and then (once through the door) turn and see him staring at me through the glass, watching me go, a look of sheer pain and profound sadness written all over his otherwise brave face.

No matter what, for five years, it was one of us miserable on a plane listening to foreign chatter and our own depressed thoughts … and the other on the long drive back, alone, with an empty seat next to us … and a lifetime full of new memories to get us through til the next time.

Time and time again.

(I’ve learned through therapy now that anxiety exists on a spectrum, a continuum, not black and white but rather gray. During those years apart, my anxiety was as far to the left as you can imagine.

And I’m realizing my disordered eating exists on a similar scale. My preoccupation with weight and size and fat, etc. is a manifestation of anxiety; these things might never go away but I am learning to co-exist with them, moving toward the middle of my own personal anxiety spectrum).

In truth, my anxiety of what was to come could have ruined us all those years, had I not been with someone who is as rational and logical as my husband, who tried time and time again to get me to see that we’re here NOW together. He encouraged me to focus on the NOW, us cuddling on the couch, watching a movie or chatting at Starbucks like a “normal couple,” not dwelling on tomorrow or two days from now …

He also never failed to remind me that we’d find a way to be together; that it would happen if I just kept faith in him and his desire to leave his country and start a life with me.

The last year of our struggle was the year (coincidentally?!) that I was maintaining at goal and at my most-confident.

In reality, the timing was right for a variety of reasons, especially the fact that he landed a fantastic job here in the U.S. literally when we got back from our Italy trip I talked about yesterday

(And I mean literally: the voice mail from his current employer offering him to fly out for a new round of interviews was waiting for us when we checked our phones at the customs baggage claim at Dulles — and got yelled at for doing so by security!).

The rest literally fell into place within a year: the whole immigration ordeal (what a PITA!), him moving to DC to be with me while his work permit was processed, wedding planning, us buying a house in Michigan, me finding a fabulous job here, me moving here that October, us getting married back in Annapolis that November.

… All of this leading up to the fact that today (TODAY!) is our two-year wedding anniversary, and we’ve come so unbelievably far as a couple and as individuals too.

So I’d like to take this moment to give a shout-out to my husband, in the here and now, the present. He doesn’t read my blog regularly (he knows all about it from me) but I owe so much of my progress to him, and I want to thank him today for being him, and for helping me on this path to be the best “me” I can be.

I know how blessed I am to have him (and his support) in my life. He is the epitome of the word “presence,” and he’s been the greatest gift in my life.

Though Saturday was incredible and fun, I want to be present for all my days, today and beyond. Instead of thinking about next weekend or next week or next year, I want to live in the here and now.

Presence is, after all, the greatest gift. Thank you, L — I love you!

How about you? Do you struggle with living in the moment? What are some tools/tricks you use if you’re like me and you’re not hardwired to live in the present?

15 thoughts on “The Greatest Gift: Presence

  1. Happy Anniversary!

    I don’t live in the present, but rather in the past. I look backward to try to explain problems, issues, or even happiness. I’m working on living in the present! It’s quite hard though…

  2. I love this post! I’m just like you Lissa, have been all my life. I have great difficulty living in the here and now. I’m always thinking in the future, worrying or looking forward to what’s coming next.

    I’m going to heed your advice and try living in the here and now. It’ll be a challenge, but I agree it’s for the best.

    Congratulations on your anniversary. He definitely sounds like a keeper. πŸ™‚

  3. Thanks Mara!! It’s so hard sometimes, you’re right. But if we make a conscious effort to live in the present (vs the future, for me) we’ll be, I think, much happier and more balanced. (I hope!)

    Hi Diana — thank you!! Let’s give it a shot, we have nothing to lose. I am off for the rest of the day — see you all tomorrow!!! (And thank you, he is!)

  4. Congrats on the anniversary! Sounds like you are both very lucky to have each other.

    I definitely have trouble being present in my life every day. My depression and the meds I take for it make it difficult for me to concentrate most of the time on whatever I’m supposed to be doing. It’s very frustrating, but as with most things, being aware of it is a big step in the right direction.

  5. Happy Anniversary! (coming from someone right near Dulles!)

    I am very guilty of not enjoying the now and forgetting to live in the moment. I am always anxious and worried about something that I forget to slow down and be so very thankful for all that I have.

    thank you for the important reminder. πŸ™‚

  6. Happy Anniversary! He sounds like an amazing person, and although I’m sure those years apart were torturous at times, it sounds like it was so worth it! πŸ™‚

    I always struggle with focusing on the present. If I’m not worried about the future, I’m worried about a decision I’ve made in the past….I am getting better at it, though. Something I do is ask myself, “Will this count for anything in 5 years? 20 years?” If so, then I “allow” myself to worry for a bit. If not (usually running late to a meeting or a small disagreement with a friend), then I keep reminding myself that I am worrying myself sick for nothing. And then I put on some good music!

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  8. Happy Anniversary!!!

    You have achieved so much, and this definately gives me hope for success in my long distance relationship. I definately have trouble living in the present. I am constantly all-over the place and feel like my mind is in a flurry of activity, sometimes making it a complete impossibility to focus.

    It’s definately evident in looking forward to my boyfriend’s visits. We have weekend visits every two months or so that I look forward to with bated breath, but then they seem gone in no time. So soon after he arrives, or after I arrive, I become so fearful of the partingand of losing him. And also, he is planning to move here next spring/summer. But I am too afraid to trust that andget my hopes up, especially with this economic climate and him trying to find a job in DC. So I definately don’t live in the now. I never live in the now and I never have. I rememberin elementary school thinking ahead and preparing for the future, so it’s the way I have always been.

  9. Happy, happy anniversary to an obviously well-suited couple.

    I try every day to live only this day. It’s really all I have, right? It’s easier some days than others but if I look too far forward I’ll miss what’s happening today and especially now that I’m a mom, I can’t miss those very special moments.

  10. Thank you, Auntie — so true, awareness is the first step!

    Hi Workout Mommy — you know my pain of Dulles then πŸ˜‰ That is me to a T, too … and I need to remind myself of this often.

    Hi Holly, and thank you — yes, they were awful at times, but I’m so glad we persisted because it is so worth it!! What a good way to look at it — β€œWill this count for anything in 5 years? 20 years?”

    Thanks for the info, Cindy.

    Hi Sheena, and thank you. The trick is to not ONLY live for those visits, and I know sometimes I fell victim to that; not always, but sometimes. Even being as secure as I was in our relationship, I still always feared the “What if he can’t come?!” (he wasn’t a citizen so it’s not like he could just move). Try to take things one day at a time, and I hope it works well for him. Remember too, lots of new jobs coming to DC regardless of his political affiliation πŸ˜‰

    Thanks Staci! You’re so right, and as a mom I am sure this is even more imperative!!

    Thanks all for the well-wishes πŸ™‚

  11. First of all, happy (belated) anniversary! Sounds like you guys had a great day. I can really relate to this post since it’s what my boyfriend and I did for 2 years before I moved to Chile. He was always the one telling me not to think about the end of the trip, and for the most part we’d be having too much fun to worry about the future, but those last few days were always so hard. Your point in the comments about the citizenship issue is why I’m currently in Chile rather than him being in the US – it was the only realistic option to be together right now, and I’d rather be together than not! Going to airports and actually traveling TOGETHER instead of away from each other is such a luxury now. It still feels a bit strange to be excited about vacation instead of distraught over not knowing when we’ll see each other next, but I think I’ll be able to get used to it πŸ™‚

  12. Happy Anniversary!

    I found THE solution to “mindfulness.” MEDS.

    I am dead serious. I tried everything- and I am disciplined as hell. Yoga, meditation, Chigong (bet most don’t even know what that is). You name it, I tried it and no dice. I thought my reeling mind was normal I had lived with it for so long.

    Finally, after 34 years of life, my anxiety was totally out of hand, mostly coming out as paranoia that something would happen to my children, and I knew I had to do something or I would miss out on my entire life.

    Anxiety meds changed my life. Literally, changed my life. I say this because many people are embarrassed that they take meds, they fear its a weakness or defect, or something to hide. I decided a long time ago I was going to be open about this, I recall it was right after I realized I was nervous picking up my prescription at the pharmacy because I worried that the Pharmacist thought. And I said enough.

    I am not saying meds are for everyone, but if you feel like you are missing your life, you are missing the moment, try every natural solution possible..but don’t be afraid to consider medication.

    -mamaV

  13. Hi Emily and thank you so much. See, had my husband been from Argentina (where I studied abroad) maybe I’d have wanted to stay there — but there are so few opportunities for us in El Sal … so it was def. meant that he’d come here (plus we met here when he was a student). I wish you and your BF the best of luck — I moved to El Sal for almost a year to teach English and I’m so glad I did — it solidified us for sure, and meant being apart was then harder, but also easier in that we knew where we were headed. Enjoy every second!! Are you guys going to do the fiancee visa? If you have any qs, I am happy to help offline … I’m a pro at that now!

    MamaV — I am def. not opposed to meds, and have considered them for sure if I can’t get through this without them. I am so happy to hear how they’ve helped you so immensely – that is comforting — no one should have to suffer.

    Thanks for the reminder — my therapist and I have talked about that as another option, so we’ll see!

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