"Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller." – Celtic Saying
This is the thin place of the year. 2012 is just days away. Hard to believe the year 2011 has passed so quickly!
At the thin place where the two years converge it's important to recognize what matters most to us. Often it's the people that we care about – at home, work, and in the community.
For the Holiday Season what do we give to those who have enriched our daily lives? What can we give that expresses the difference they make and the value they add?
Of course the malls are filled with folks busy searching for just the right thing that expresses that caring and thanks.
This Christmas there's another kind of gift that we can give, one that you can't get at the mall or online. It's a gift that directly matches the positive impact of our family, friends and close colleagues. It's the Gift of Presence.
Showing up and being present with someone is an act of love and respect. It says that the other person is important and that the time we spend with them is valuable.
It's something everyone who loves, admires and respects us wants at any time of the year—our time and company.
So many of us are flying from one thing to another fed by an adrenaline drip. Meetings are scheduled at 15-minute intervals, ten hours every day. Before and after work there are kids to be driven to lessons, chores to do, trips to the gym and when we are thoroughly brain dead, television to be watched. Doesn't leave much space for meaningful connections.
Showing up, according to Woody Allen, is 80% of success. That's true as well in relationships. No spouse, child, friend or subordinate wants to be in relationship with a missing person...unless they've checked out too.
When we're not busy putting out the latest fire at home or work, we are preoccupied by something we have to do later or something that has already been done but we haven't brought to closure.
We are like time travelers in that regard. We are operating in multiple time zones with one important exception, the present moment.
Thinking about where we've been and where we're going next keeps us trapped in our heads and divorced from the present moment where we can actually make something happen.
We rationalize our lack of presence by citing our burdens and our fears. These sound like excuses to those who want to be close to us. Before long the very people we care most about are disappointed and resentful about our absences. What could be more important than our marriage, family, friendship or team they wonder?
Eventually, the effect on those of us that are caught up in distraction and preoccupation is a profound loneliness, separation and disassociation.
What To Do
Okay, so you're an Uber-Time Traveler who is willing to reform. You'll want to know what to do, right? As Philip Shepherd reminds us in his marvelous new book New Self, New World:
"Changing our course and setting a bearing home—home to the Present that waits to greet and guide us—is a kind of revolution that begins not on some grand scale, but on a deeply personal one."
Follow these steps to reset your sails:
1. Make A Conscious Choice To Be Here
The present moment is where your loved ones live, not in the future or the past. That's where you will find them waiting patiently for you to show up. You can do that by choosing to be present.
The choice to be with them instead of your thoughts might feel a little awkward at first. Don't worry. You'll get used to it. And, it gets easier with practice.
If you're having a hard time remembering to stay in the present find a little stone that you can keep in the palm of your hand. When you find yourself drifting give it a squeeze. It will help you transition back to the NOW.
2. Envision The Relationship You Want
It's helpful to have an idea of the kind of relationship you want to build with those you care about.
If you are a time traveler chances are you have good problem solving skills (built by obsessing about the past) and planning skills (built by worry over the future.)
Bad way to acquire skills, I admit. But the good news is these skills are transferrable to the present.
Try envisioning a deeper, more meaningful relationship with your spouse, your kids, and your colleagues at work. What would it look like? How would you accomplish it? Then, get to work.
3. Prioritize and Manage Time
One reason that we don't show up in our relationships is that we leave them to last. That generally produces bad results. We're too tired, rushed or trying to do too many other things that prevent quality connection.
Most of us are super-responsible for making our meetings. Carving out time for relationships can help us ensure that we are making them a priority and attending to them with full engagement and enthusiasm.
Knowing what we want to create in our relationships makes it easier to make it a priority and protect the time required to make relationships grow.
4. Remove Distractions
Trying to watch TV, read the paper, or input on your tablet computer while you're with another person certainly sets a mood. It also sends a message. Unfortunately, multitasking does not create an atmosphere that supports us to be present and focused on relationships.
Turn stuff off. Yes, even your mobile phone. There will be plenty of time later to take and return calls, catch up on the political gridlock, or worry about the Euro.
You might not get another chance to see your kid play hockey, sing in the Christmas choir, or read The Night Before Christmas. Before you know it they'll be grown and gone.
5. Be Open
You can show up but not be open to others and miss the opportunity to connect.
It's a sign of true engagement to be forthcoming about your thoughts, feelings, and needs. Openness, honesty and a little vulnerability can go a long way to thaw a relationship that has frozen over time from lack of attention.
Openness to doing what others find enjoyable, even when it's not your cup of tea, is a gesture that can create closeness.
Go to the opera or a neighborhood gathering if that's something your spouse loves to do. Ask a colleague out to lunch and don't talk business. Catch up and/or get to know each other better.
Get a tattoo with your kids. Guaranteed, they'll never see you the same way again.
6. Be Curious
Being curious about others is also a signal of both presence and caring. Many people are so wrapped up in their own world that they give other's only a passing thought if at all.
People who are "airhogs" prefer an audience to a relationship. If that's you, try listening for a change. You'll be amazed at what you can learn about someone else if you bring curiosity to bear and ask some questions rather than provide answers.
And, if you are bored in your relationships you are either in the wrong relationships or you're not paying attention. There is much that can be learned about others and the mystery of their lives if you are curious.
7. Be Grateful
Gratitude for the gift of companionship is also an important way to stay present to relationships and to steward their growth and development. What we are grateful for we value. When we value something it becomes a priority.
Those of us blessed by relationship and who are not grateful are gambling with a precious gift. How many people do you know who have allowed their most important relationships to drift and decline through inattention? How many families have come apart as a result? Think those folks are happy living alone?
Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien, writes in her important new book Living In Gratitude:
"Gratitude functions in the chain of reciprocity—the give and take factor in relationships—which does not incur indebtedness. Put another way, in relationships, gratitude and generosity are intertwined...By mutual giving, people become tied to each other by a web of feelings of gratitude."
If heaven and earth are truly just three feet apart, there's room enough for you, your loved ones, friends or colleagues. Together you make a bridge that connects the two worlds.
That connection begins when you choose to show up and take responsibility for nurturing your most important relationships.
That's a gift for every season.
Happy Holidays to you and your family.