Category Archives: being present

Sensory overload

The Last Samurai is a wonderful film about redemption, courage, and honor. Captain Nathan Algren, fighting alongside the forces of the Emperor of Japan, loses a battle to the rebel samurai. He is taken and held captive, living among them, learning their ways, and gradually coming to understand and respect their methods. In one scene, he is trying and failing to master the samurai sword. A young man named comes to his side with this advice:

Nobutada (to Algren):   “Please forgive, too many mind.”

Nathan Algren:   “Too many mind?”

Nobutada:   “Hai. Mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind the enemy, too many mind… [pause] No mind.”

 Sage advice. In my own life, I feel like I’m constantly losing the battle of just being. I’m minding the sword, the people watching, the enemy, as well as all the rest of life being thrown my direction at light speed. And all of it, every last bit, seemingly pushing me to do this or do that or just…do…something. As if by the doing of one thing I will feel better about the lack of the doing of everything else.

 Where is the space in our lives to just….be? To sit quietly. To simply be somewhere. Present. Accounted for. But not doing anything. What a beautiful and elusive picture. I’m pretty sure the psalmist knew what he was asking when he said “Lead me beside still waters” as opposed to “I got it, God, no problem. I can get the whitewater trip set up this week, easy. Promo, ads, website, registration, paypal…”

 Did you know that 100 years ago, the average American absorbed and processed less than 1 megabyte of external content every day? (That is, content not found in nature or personal conversations or interactions – like a street sign, billboard, music, TV, movies, etc.) Did you know that the average person in the US today processes over 3.7 terabytes of information every day? Or more accurately, attempts to process? For those keeping score at home, one terabyte is the amount of information that would be stored on 50,000 trees cut down and made into books. Two terabytes is equal to an average state university’s entire research library! And we’re trying to digest 3.7.

 I have been spending a lot of time lately, thinking and processing and praying about what it means to be a man in his thirties. I don’t have a lot of conclusions yet. But one theme keeps appearing as I ask questions – being versus doing. There are loads of bible verses about abiding in Christ, finding peace in Him, taking time to pursue Him, walking with God and many other concepts that support the idea that simply being with Him is the goal. Versus trying to accomplish things for Him. Jesus made it a priority to clear his schedule, leave the busyness, abandon the crowds and find a quiet place to simply be with his Father. I can only assume he was on to something important.

 In my own life, I know that when I am simply present in the fullness of who I am, good things happen. Moments when I experience God personally and intimately. When I encounter Him and find peace. The days or hours or minutes when I feel most alive. He said to me the other day, “I care far more about your heart than anything you can ever do for me.” My heart knows it’s true. Being is a daily choice to fight off each of the 3,700,000,000,000 bytes trying to steal the truth from me and replace it with doing.

In the company of mockers

Psalm 1 (NIV) says “Blessed are those who do not…sit in the company of mockers…” As I was reflecting on this last week, I couldn’t help but be staggered by the number of places in my life where I choose to sit in the company of mockers. Mocking means to treat with ridicule, contempt, or derision. When I sit back with some perspective and that definition, it seems that I am surrounded by a world full of people mocking me, my values, Jesus and Christianity in general, as well as the life choices I am making. In the past, I’ve chalked up the mocking to ‘just the way things are’ or ‘that’s just the world in which I live’ or whatever. And while those rationalizations may have some truth to them, the last week of pondering this has led me to the conclusion that it is most often my choice to sit in their company. How many hours a week do I spend in front of the television, watching movies, listening to the radio, or my personal habit, endlessly devouring each bit of online news that streams across my screen.

Sure, there are fun shows that entertain. Radio can inform. Keeping up on current events seems harmless enough. But it seems easy enough to reconcile this verse with what we know of Jesus’ life here on earth. I don’t recall many verses in the gospels that are devoted to conversations about the good or bad of the current political regime. I think it is safe to assume that Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time debating politics with his disciples. He seemed primarily concerned with the condition of the human heart, not human circumstances. Even when he was actively fixing circumstances, which he did quite often in healing the sick and such, he almost always asked them questions about their heart.

And when confronted with those who mocked him, he didn’t sidestep their contempt, ridicule and derision with excuses. He didn’t placate their self-defined righteous anger with soft words. He risked offending them by telling the truth in love. Jesus seemed to delight in challenging the status quo, didn’t he? When the Pharisees tried to bait him with politics, he went right for their hearts. When the rich young ruler asked for a next step, he didn’t suggest a building program or a stewardship plan or a planned gift to the future church, Jesus  went straight for his heart.

I’m not writing this because I have a prescription ready for you. On the contrary, I’m in the middle of the situation and I feel compelled to speak about it out loud. Because I am convinced that often I choose to sit and watch a movie instead of pursuing my wife’s heart at the end of a long day. While that movie may not overtly communicate that everything I hold dear is wrong, it does usually mock, deride, ridicule and hold in contempt the values I treasure and want to live by. Too long have I been content to just let that happen, to sit silently, letting the opinion of mockers spill freely over me. Content to absorb, seemingly unaware that according to Scripture, long term exposure to mockery is hazardous to my health. As is the case with most of my life, it seems, the more difficult choice is usually the one that leads to real life.

Maybe Robert Frost captured it best:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The gift of being present.

A few years ago, I was talking with a small group of guys. One of them was sharing his story – what life had been like growing up, things that had happened to him, conclusions he had drawn about himself. Growing up in a large family as a younger, quieter, kid, he often felt unheard. Now an adult, he struggled with giving up the microphone once he got it. We knew this, he knew this, we had talked about it before. But it was still a very long story that he told that day. Honestly, I struggled with paying attention. I wanted to, but it was hard. My mind wandered. But every single time I looked over at my buddy Sam, he was dialed in completely. Totally focused, listening attentively. It was actually kind of inspiring. Later on that week, I asked Sam about it. Was he actually that captivated by the story? What was going on for him that he sat at rapt attention for almost three hours? He said that he had remembered this guy’s past. And Sam decided, for one night, to give this guy the gift of being present.

The most challenging resolution I have made for 2011 is to offer the gift of being present. To my family, to my wife, to my friends, in meetings, in my life. To consciously try to be present instead of just sitting there. I’m not where I want to be right now, but I’m getting better. A conscious decision to not get up and start clearing the table when I’m done with dinner. A conscious decision to close my laptop when one of my kids asks a question instead of saying, “…just a minute…” Which frankly is just my code for ‘what I’m doing is more important than your question’ most of the time. And unfortunately, if it’s my laptop that’s open, then what I am doing is almost surely less important than their question.

We went to a concert the other day and I was shocked at the number of people who spent most of the concert looking at their phones. Granted, I understand that it was going to make a sweet YouTube video, but I really think they missed out on part of the concert experience. I don’t know for sure. But I know for pretty sure. If you’re standing 10 feet from the stage, but looking at your LCD screen the whole time, you’re missing something. A few days later I took my son to his karate class. Looking down the wall of the karate studio, it was lined with parents. Faces lit up not with the joy of seeing their sons and daughters learning karate, but with ipads, iphones and laptops.

Please hear me. I’m not on a technology rant. It can be helpful, fun, relaxing or a way to make our living. But for me personally, this year, I’m realizing how much of real life I’m missing when I’m plugged in. And so my resolution is to live life acoustically, to experience life more through taste and smell and hearing and touch and sight. To give those that I love the gift of being present.

What about you?