A friend posted an article today by marriage counselor Justice Schanfarber on why women leave men they love. His short answer is this: women leave because their man is not present. The author told men: your wife wants you to listen to her, to feel her, to know her. She wants to feel your passion for her, for sex, and mainly for being alive. What she doesn’t want is “absent-minded groping.” I can just hear the chorus of women shouting “AMEN!”
Absent-Minded Groping! What a great turn of phrase for such annoying behavior! But listen: it's not limited to men, and it's not limited to sex.
The concept of absent-minded groping got me thinking about how many other ways we – men and women and children - absent-mindedly grope our ways through our lives. Rather than bringing full presence and attention to whatever it is we are about, we immerse ourselves in distractions that keep us from fully experiencing our passion and our presence – and we end up rather absentmindedly groping at what we want, often losing track of just what that is, or distractedly settling for a thin substitute.
We’ve got a gazillion tools with which to make ourselves absent-minded. Among them:
- Constantly texting or FaceBooking
- Watching multiple TV screens in restaurants and bars
- Multitasking as a way of life
- Eating fast food and/or gulping food just to fill the void
- Doing doing doing
- Fidgeting, twitching, chewing, pulling, twisting, picking
- Shooting selfies rather than being in the experience as it unfolds
- Calling or texting friends instead of talking to the people you’re with right now
- Leaving the TV on for background noise
- Drugs, alcohol, smoking
- Addictive eating, addictive exercise, addictive anything
- Focusing on the past or the future
- Blame, guilt, shame, resentment
…and the list goes on.
With all those alluring tools for absent-mindedness, how can you become present and passionate rather than absent-minded? It’s simple: you stop clouding up your radar screen with a multitude of stimuli. You stop just groping at the experience, and instead let yourself completely have it. And how do you do that? After saying “no thank you” to the distraction, you simply gather your focus onto whatever you are experiencing right now, on your way to what you want to experience. Whether you’re washing dishes, doing pushups or initiating sex, just be aware of what it is you are experiencing in this moment, and how you are experiencing it. What thoughts are pulling at you? What are you feeling? What sensations are present in your body? What do you smell/hear/see? Where did your mind just go?
Mindfulness is the word for this practice these days. It’s rooted in Buddhist traditions, but it simply means observing an experience while you’re having the experience. It is quite simply just noticing, without judgment, what’s going on as you are going on. Jon Kabat-Zinn calls it being the “impartial witness” to your life. Meditation is a very intentional practice of mindfulness, and one of the most worthwhile endeavors in the world as far as I’m concerned. But you can – and I hope you’ll want to – practice mindfulness in your everyday moving-about-the-world life. Why would you? Because you’ll sleep better, feel happier, be more peaceful, be easier to get along with, be healthier, make better decisions, have more energy, have a happier spouse, and maybe even see the face of God.
I don’t think you’ll get there just by talking about it, or by taking pills or any other form of absent-minded groping at it. It is presence that begets presence. But don’t take my word for it. I could list a whole book’s worth of references for you, and the list would still be incomplete. Instead, you can google it and research to your heart’s content. But don’t take their word for it either. Be your own proof, your own expert: Put down your phone, turn off the TV, relax your bouncing foot, quit chewing gum, take a deep breath, and just notice. Simply observe. No judgment, no assessment, not even a preference. Just notice what you’re noticing. Notice that your mind is wandering. Notice that you’re judging your mind’s wandering. Notice that you’re now trying not to judge. Notice that trying is trying. Bring your mind fully present to whatever you’re doing, touching, hearing, thinking, feeling, smelling, seeing, even if what you notice is that you're not noticing. As Eckhart Tolle so wonderfully and paradoxically said, “The moment you realize you are not present, you are present." So come present and be present yourself, with all of yourself. Be present with the person you’re with, and share the wonders of your presence with them. Reach out and touch them…consciously, mindfully touch them.
Stop absent-mindedly groping for whatever it is you want to experience in the future, and let yourself fully experience this moment. Practice this for awhile and then see what happens…to your relationship, to your work, to your body, and most importantly to you, the you who’s observing. The mindful, passionate, present You.
I can just hear the chorus of "Amens."