Being present: ideal vs reality

Have you noticed that "being present" seems to be a catchphrase everywhere now? I seem to hear this phrase constantly. Being present is the cure-all for our society's inability to focus, be happy, and avoid multi-tasking. It should be easy, right?


Whenever I try to really be in the moment and be present, a million other things are going through my head at the same time. In yoga class when the teacher asks us to set an intention for the day? My mind goes to my to-do list. When I'm walking through the city, intent on savoring my exercise? I check my phone. Heck, I even interrupt myself sometimes. Last night, talking to L, I must have started three different thoughts before I was able to finish one. Even while writing this, I've had to stop myself several times from checking my email.

And I don't think I'm alone in this.

We worry so constantly that we are going to miss something if we don't always have our hands in several pots at once. This makes my mind very jumpy.

But over the weekend, at our family weekend place on a pond, my father and I took a canoe ride. The pond was smooth like glass. The air was cool and crisp. The sun shone brightly, but faintly, that kind of sun that you know means the end of summer. As we paddled, barely making a sound in the water, we noticed a blue heron on the left bank.

We paused in our paddling, floating for one moment. I'm fascinated by the blue herons I see on that pond. They are perfectly still until they take flight. We gazed at the heron, mesmerized for just one moment. We watched, respectfully, reverently. Then, the heron took off, wings flapping gracefully.

I realized just afterwards that I hadn't been thinking of anything else during that moment. I was just watching this majestic bird, feeling that fall air, relishing being in a canoe with my father on a pond.

Was I actually being present?

So, what does it take for you to be in the moment? Do you need to be in nature? In a city? How do you focus on just one thing at a time?