One of the things that I have been telling myself the last few months is that I want to do a better job of “being present” with others in 2010. 2009 was an awesome year, but I felt overwhelmed, and overextended throughout much of the year. There were lots of reasons for that. Lack of boundaries primarily, but I also realized that I didn’t do a good job of being present (to people, to my surroundings, to my relationships, to God) because I found myself constantly online (on my desktop, or my phone) when I didn’t have something to fill my time. God forbid I actually sit still and do nothing…that I actually observe, watch, pay attention, reflect, pray, etc.

So I turned off my Facebook, blog, Twitter, and barely got online except for a couple of times from December 23–January 4th. Not a real long time. But long enough to feel the pains of having to withdraw (Should refraining from technology for a short period of time feel like a stint in detox? Yikes).

And a curious thing happened. Eventually it got easier not to be online that I almost dreaded coming back online yesterday. And I’m someone who loves being online. But I noticed some things while I was away offline. The key word is noticed.

I noticed that lots of things don’t get my attention when I’m constantly looking at my phone, surfing the web, watching TV, etc. I miss out on the little things. The quirks in our relationships. The hurting person on the street who needs my attention. The change of tone in a conversation that lets you know that something is off. The small, still, quiet voice of God.

But being away from the deluge of media on my phone, computer and TV just brought a new sense of awareness and attention to my life that I haven’t had for a while, and I noticed that those around me felt different about the change as well. They noticed that they were of primary importance to me, rather than some dude on the East coast twittering about something. They noticed that I was more into the details. That I was more present with them.

During this break my wife and I went to see Sherlock Holmes and I kept telling my wife “I want to observe the details like Sherlock Holmes.” I said that over and over. But I know that that is just not a skill or a gift that is given, but one that is cared for and fostered by the person. To be someone who has that skill of observation requires that other things that detract from us paying attention be put aside, or have boundaries placed around it.

The skill of observation and intuition is a huge blessing not only for the bearer of it, but for those who are on the benefiting end of it.

Imagine if I as a therapist had as much skill of observation in session with clients as Sherlock Holmes did in his cases.

Imagine if we as pastors/ministers had as much skill of observation with those that we serve.

Imagine if we as family members (wives, husbands, children, parents) had as much skill of observation with those we are in relationship with.

That would be transforming.

But it’s not something that we can just push a button and receive. It takes time, work, reflection, silence, saying no to things, being present to our surroundings and relationships.

For me that means that 2010 will be a constant struggle to put the cell phone down when I’m not on a call. For me that means turning off the TV to interact more thoughtfully with my family. For me that means setting a time limit on my time online. For me that means not feeling like I need to fill up my downtime, but to just sit and be.  Can’t I just sit and be or do I feel so inadequate and insecure that I will do anything to keep or look busy?

What would you need to do to accomplish this?

I love Tony Steward’s Facebook note from this last week, Do You See or Observe? Tony states:

One of the simplest examples Holmes uses in one of the first short stories is of the stairway him and Watson have walked up many times.

I (Watson) could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction. “When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”

“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”

“How often?”
“Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

And Tony concludes this section with this thought:

In our world of real time streams, live updates, status messages, emails, conversations, videos how much are we seeing? More than ever! But how much are we truly seeking to observe, to discern? While we can see quickly I don’t know that observation is something that comes from a skim, at least not without practice. Many times in the Holmes stories, after hearing an account of facts, he retreats and ponders what he has “seen” looking for the deeper meaning and the greater truths at play. How often do we do that?

Nice thoughts Tony.

May 2010 be a year that we all take time to slow down and reflect on our lives, what is happening around us, and to engage more intentionally in the relationships around us. And may we not let technology and other distractions keep us from doing so.