Spirit Matters: Genuine presence is a fading commodity


It is a quality you would think we would instinctively understand and practice.

But, either we don’t instinctively understand it, or we choose not to practice it.

This week I came upon a statement online that spoke to my heart: “When you love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is your presence.”

Notice it says “presence,” and not “presents.”

There is a difference, a huge difference.

Presence is simply the state of being present to those you are with, or to the task you are doing. Or, in the simplest terms, it is a quality manifested by those who exist.

To be alive is to have the capacity to be present.

Before we do or say anything, we are present.

However, “presence” quickly vanishes when we are distracted, when we are not focused on the person or the task at hand.

Whenever we are doing or thinking two or more things at a time, we are not purely present to either one of them.

How many of us can say we are always present to those we love, to our friends and family, to our jobs, to our chores?

I, for one, cannot say that.

Here is a small example.

This week, my sister-in-law sent me a text message about hers and my brother’s two dogs, accompanied by a photo. (I should note that whenever she sends me a message about the dogs, my interest is piqued… I am ALL about seeing new photos of them).

I was alerted of the message and read it, while the photo was still downloading.

Before the download was complete, I moved on to something else.

It wasn’t until TWO DAYS later, while I was in the middle of doing my job, that it occurred to me I had not gone back to look at the photo.

I felt embarrassed.

As soon as I could, I pulled the message up and responded to her, explaining what had happened.

Who knows what pulled me away from that original text/photo? Most likely something ran through my head that I wanted to look up on my smartphone, and then I got distracted by something else, and then something else … And completely forgot about her message.

I know I am not the only one this happens to.

For those of us who are in any way attached to the electronic world, this kind of thing is not uncommon.

One of my biggest pet peeves — although, like everything else, I have in some way become accustomed to it — is that many restaurants these days have some kind of distraction hoisted in plain sight.

Almost any casual restaurant I can think of has at least one large-screen television, if not multiple televisions, posted around the dining room. These televisions are always on, usually featuring a sports game, a talk show or a 24-hour-news channel.

In addition, or in replacement of a television, many have portable machines at each table where diners can easily pay their bill and leave.

But these machines are not just to pay a food ticket. They also have all kinds of games, quizzes and other novelties, to appease those who cannot sit for an hour and enjoy the company of those with whom they are out for a meal.

I acknowledge the convenience of being able to pay one’s bill at the table. And, yet, the first time I ever came across one of these machines in a restaurant known for its ambience and the experience it provides its patrons, I was mortified.

For me, it is a distraction the entire time, and that first time I saw it, completely ruined the dining experience.

It is one more thing that keeps me from remaining completely focused on those I am with and giving them my full attention, which is a basic human courtesy.

The more these distractions proliferate, and the more we acquiesce to them, the easier it is to lose our soul and the more difficult it is to retrieve that soul.

I know I refer to the fact that I am smack dab in mid life regularly, but this is just another example of the awareness that comes when one recognizes their mortality.

Every day I see more and more people with whom I have come into contact in some way in this life, or whom are connected to someone I know, in the obituaries.

We all, at some point or another, lament how fast time goes, when we see a young man or woman we knew as an infant or toddler graduating from high school or college, or getting married or starting a family of their own.

We have come to believe we have control over so many things in this life, but one thing we cannot control is the passage of time. We have a choice on how we choose to spend it.

I am more aware now of just how much time I waste on things that don’t matter a whole lot. I could have been spending precious time with loved ones, or doing something that could truly edify my soul, such as reading a good old-fashioned book, with two covers and a unique adventure inside.

We can all relearn how to be present to those we love.

It might take practice but we can do it, if we choose how to spend our time in a more life-giving, soul-building way, rather than being controlled and distracted by the fading and temporary illusions that surround us.

· SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.