[image by mikebaird]

One of the unique things about being a therapist is that it requires me to be able to be fully present to those who sit across from me in my office. No cell phone. No computer. No interruptions. No distractions. For45-50 minutes they get my full, undivided attention.  In fact, one of the comments that I hear most frequently from those who come to therapy is that this is the only time in their week when they feel like they have someone’s full attention.  Nowhere else does someone seem to be fully present to them.

In a culture that has become increasingly noisy it is not surprising that the correlative affect is that many people are simply drowned out by the noise. And therefore, in the process, this drowning out has a transforming affect on our relationships with one another.  This issue has been an ongoing topic of conversation at conferences I have been attending, blog posts I’m reading, and I had a great conversation with my father about it over the weekend, and with John Dyer last night.

My father, who is not anti-technology at all, simply said to me, “I’m afraid we are losing our ability to be fully present to one another.”

We all want to believe that we are fully present to one another, especially to those of us we consider most important such as spouses, children, friends and family, but more than likely, if we are completely honest with ourselves…we simply are not.

Recently I’ve noticed some of these things I see around me, and I cringed, realizing that I do this quite a bit as well:

  1. Parents playing with their kids on the playground while talking on the cell phone
  2. A group of friends eating together, yet all looking at their phones and texting/Twittering, etc
  3. Sitting with our spouses on the couch, yet constantly looking at our phones
  4. Talking on our phones after we pick up our kids from school
  5. Not moving away from our devices to focus on someone who has come to talk to us
  6. Talking on the phone while ordering food, or buying groceries at the checkout
  7. Worshipping in church, yet more concerned about what’s going on at other churches via Twitter
  8. Checking email, FB and Twitter messages last thing at night, or first thing in the morning
  9. Not having definite boundaryed times of no device use in our homes
  10. Glancing at our phones while on a date with our spouses, or significant others
  11. Constantly updating/texting during a game or concert
  12. And on, and on, and on, and on……

This is just a very small sampling of things that demonstrate our inability to not be in the moment…to not be present with those we are in direct, relational proximity to.

I’m not sure if we are bored.  If we are impatient.  Or if we are simply just not happy with who we are, therefore, we are constantly casting the net outwards, seeking affirmation, hoping that someone will notice us.  It’s almost like the elementary kid school who if he had the courage to speak would shout,

“Hey, hey, look at me.  Look at what I do.  I’m important.  I am somebody.”

Sometimes I wonder if that’s what we are doing with all of our online noise.  We are not getting the affirmation or satisfaction in the relationships with the people who are right in front of us, or we are so unhappy with who we are we need to go out and find something that will make us happy.  Mainly people commenting, retweeting and affirming us.

One of the writers who has most taught me about the importance of being present to others is Henri Nouwen.  And in the book, The Spiritual Legacy of Henri Nouwen, the author Deirdre LaNoue says this:

Nouwen gave several concrete principles on how to care.  The most prominent in his writing goes back to the idea of being present.  Nouwen believed that caring means, first of all, to be present with each other, ‘offering one’s own vulnerable self to others as a source of healing.’  One does not need to be useful as much as to be present.  To be present is to listen and to identify with each other as mortal, fragile human beings who need to be heard and sustained by one another, not distracted or entertained.  Nouwen’s most powerful expression of this idea is found in Here and Now. (pp. 129-130)

This is a journey that I’m on…something that I struggle with a lot, and something that I’m continually having to work on.

This weekend when I was leaving my grandmother’s funeral, an elderly gentleman pulled me aside to not only say something about my grandmother, but more specifically about my grandfather. He said, “Your grandfather had the ability to make the person he was talking to feel like the most important person in the world.” I want people to feel that way after talking to me. To feel that I was fully present with them, and that they were the most important person in the world to me….not the person on Twitter who is not standing right in front of me.