“When I’m dancing, that’s what I’m doing.”

12Before his death in 2009, Merce Cunningham, an American choreographer, was probably the most famous living choreographer in the world. His work in the field of contemporary dance spanned more than half a century, during which time he and his dance company toured the globe, challenging and entrancing millions of viewers.  He is noted for having continually expanded the boundaries of contemporary dance, and for developing innovative computer software for creating and teaching choreography.

Merce was interviewed frequently about his work, and cited his philosophy as the reason for his success: “When I’m dancing, that’s what I’m doing.” Everything else faded into the background and he was immersed and fully present in what he was doing at the time, whatever that happened to be.

We could all take a pointer from Merce Cunningham about being fully present wherever we are. Being present when you’re communicating involves you and another party. It means listening dynamically with all five senses to the people you’re communicating with. It means clearing your head of all other noise in order to fully be present for them and with them. Rather than multi-tasking in your brain: formulating a response to what they are saying, making a to-do list in your head of what you need to remember later, or checking your messages on your phone, try to give the person you’re communicating with your full attention.

Try to CONNECT. What is the person you’re communicating with hearing as you speak? Are they hearing your concern and seeing you focus on them? Or are they instead seeing a distracted person who probably won’t remember what they are saying?

At work are you fully present? At home, are you fully present? This is a struggle for most of us—we go to spend time with our families, and are side-tracked by pinging text message alerts, calls from work, emails, Facebook, and chatter—in this electronic age, it’s more important than ever to make being present a practice in our lives.

If you can’t give your family a full day, give them a full hour—fully present with no cell phone, no television. I can guarantee that your partner and children notice when your body is there but your head is not.

This New Year, try to resolve to become more fully present in your life and relationships. Give your full attention to the employee who is asking you for help; put down your phone while you lie on the floor and build blocks with your kids; at dinner turn off the phone and listen to your partner talk with her voice and her body language, sans distractions. Make a connection. “When I’m dancing, that’s what I’m doing.”

Make this year a year of being purposeful and present in your life.


One thought on “the gift of being present

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