One mid-March day in 2001, I experienced perfect peace.
My then-boyfriend Mark and I were at his mother’s home in Florida. It was mid-afternoon and we had been tired and decided to take a nap together. He and I had been dating since the previous September and, though I didn’t know it then, seven months later he would propose to me and I would joyfully accept.
On that sunny central Florida day, though, none of that mattered because I was completely in the present moment. We clung together, fully clothed, on the bed in his mom’s guest room. And I knew peace. I return to that memory sometimes and always re-experience a flash of that peace, that sense of all being right in the world, of safety and love and feeling fully alive. That may have been the moment I knew what I had with Mark was special.
What strikes me now is that connection between presence and peace. When I’m multi-tasking, I don’t feel peaceful. How can I when I’m doing two things at once, which by definition means that I’m not fully present for either of them? Listening to an audiobook while I straighten the house doesn’t detract from my performance of those extremely habitual housekeeping activities. They are so routine that I could almost do them in my sleep. But multi-tasking does diminish my sense of being fully present. And it leaves me feeling more jangly then serene. That’s not good or bad…just something I’ve noticed.
Presence affects every area of life. For the last few months, I’ve been focusing on being more present and mindful when I eat. It started December 1st, when I decided to eat less. I figured that if I really paid attention to what I actually did eat, I would feel less deprived about what I didn’t. Turns out it works! When I pay full (or, honestly, just more) attention to how food looks, smells, feels and tastes, I enjoy it more and require less. So far I’ve shed fourteen pounds without effort or deprivation. Who knew this was possible? Actually, many people. I’d read and heard of mindful eating for years. It just had not appealed to me. I didn’t want to be present with what I ate. And, perhaps not coincidentally, I did not experience great peace with food. Eating wasn’t a battle; it was just a habit, which is to say an almost mindless activity.
Peace did not come immediately. For the first few weeks, I felt anything but. I was frustrated that my metabolism no longer worked with the way I’d been eating for the past thirty years. And I felt lonely. So lonely. Since I work out of my home and my husband travels frequently, I eat most meals alone. I’m an introvert, so being alone usually fills my energy tank. But even introverts have limits. I’d apparently reached mine and hadn’t known it. No wonder I watched TV or read books while I ate! It distracted me from the isolation I experienced breaking bread by myself. When I set those diversions aside, I felt the pain at meal time and even cried a couple times. If this was being present, a future full of it looked grim.
But something shifted along the way. I realized I could take the loneliness. I leaned into it and discovered its textures and limits. Not surprisingly, it eased as I stayed present to it and accepted it. It also eased because I began to act on my need for greater connection with other people now that I was painfully aware of it. I started talking about it with some friends. I let my husband know how important our shared meals were so we could have more of them. And I somehow opened myself up to healing. Without any conscious decision, I began meeting face-to-face with people more often for work and personal connections. It has just unfolded naturally and effortlessly. I’m experiencing the beauty of being a creature that instinctively recalibrates once it gains awareness of being out of alignment.
And I’m OK with that. At peace, you might say. I’ll sometimes get out of balance with my needs. I’m human. If I give my mind the quiet it needs to be present, though, it will naturally lead me to peace. Nowadays, I recall that perfect cuddle on my future mother-in-law’s guest bed and enjoy the memory without wistfulness. I’m making new memories of peaceful present moments almost every day. It makes my life–and my belly–feel full. Maybe I’ll let go of the audiobooks while cleaning next…