Is There Anything More Important Than Giving Our Attention To The People We Are With In This Moment?


Our family just spent a lovely weekend at my home with my sister-in-law and her children. Because our children are getting older, each one seems to have an iPad, iPhone or some other electronic gadget attached to their hand at all times. I noticed that when we were all together talking, some of the kids would zone out of the conversation and start looking at their phones or computers. Several times I had to say nicely, “Excuse me, but your uncle or cousin was telling you a story.” Often the response was, “Oh, I’m just texting my friend from camp–one minute.”   I also saw all the children sitting together, each one on an electronic device, not speaking to each other. Later, my parents joined us all for dinner and even my dad got out his iPhone to post comments on a sports blog, leaving the conversation for fifteen minutes. All of these electronic distractions created a gap between all of us that was never there before. I honestly felt that we barely spent any time together, even though we were physically together all weekend. It seemed like other people had been with us in the house, people I could not see and did not invite, but who surely had plenty of our attention!

When the extended family left, in an effort to make my children understand the importance of being in the moment and giving attention to the people we are spending time with, I shared a Tolstoy story with them. Here is a synopsis of the story:

The thought came to a certain King that he would never fail if he knew three things. These three things were:

  • When is the best time to do each thing?
  • Who are the most important people to work with?
  • What is the most important thing to do at all times?

Many educated men attempted to answer the King’s questions, but they all came up with different answers. The King decided that he must ask a wise hermit in a nearby village. The hermit, however, would only see common folk, so the King disguised himself as a peasant, left his guards behind, and went to see the hermit. The hermit was digging flower beds when the King arrived. The King asked his three questions, but the hermit only went on digging rather laboriously. The king offered to dig for the hermit for a while. After digging for some time, the King again asked his questions. Before the hermit could answer, another man emerged from the woods. He was bleeding from a terrible stomach wound. The King tended to him, and they all stayed the night in the hermit’s hut. By the next day the wounded man was doing better, but was incredulous at the care he had received. The man confessed that he knew who the King was, and that the King had executed his brother and seized his property. He had come to kill the King, but the King’s guards had wounded him. The man pledged allegiance to the King, and he went on his way. The King asked the hermit again for his answers, and the hermit responded that he had just had his questions answered.

“Do you not see?” replied the hermit. “If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not dug these beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds. I was the most important man. And to do me good was your most important business. Afterwards, when that wounded man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business. Remember then: there is only one time that is important –Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are with, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else. And the most important affair is to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!”

All of us can become distracted about the future, or an email or text, and our thoughts leave the present and the ones we are with. I think we believe there is always another time when we can focus on the people that are around us if our minds are elsewhere that day. Yet, who knows what our future holds and the moment that is so precious is often traded for a video game or Facebook feed.

Also, how can we know if the people we are with, especially teenagers who rarely tell us what is going on, need us in a way that only our pure attention can satisfy? Maybe the moment is all we’ll get to be together or to make a difference so the person in front of us knows they are loved.   Even if our teenagers or other loved ones might not always share their most intimate secrets, Maybe the love we share when we are really present together will make a difference when they feel stuck or they are suffering about something in their lives.  A difference that can be quite profound during a difficult time.

If we can make NOW the most important moment, and the person we are with the most important person, and what we are doing the most important thing, we will be led to more meaningful and fulfilling lives with one another. Being in the NOW, we are present to give and receive the true gift of life — LOVE.

I am happy to say my children set down their devices and listened to the story. They heard me, were with me, and Maybe, just Maybe, they will bring these ideas, and not their gadgets, to our next family gathering!

Do You Regret Choices That You Made In Your Life?

business movieA few years ago, my dad and I were talking and he told me how he chose to become an engineer. His father owned a steel fabrication shop and came home every night covered in black soot with cuts all over his hands. My grandmother would turn to my dad when his father got home and say, “See? He does this for you every day.” When it came time to choose an occupation, his parents made it very clear that they wanted my father to take over the family business. Out of obligation, he did so. My dad did not love engineering and being in business was very stressful and difficult for him. As we talked, he told me for the first time that what heʼd really wanted to do was to go into the entertainment business and get a job at one of the networks.

As he told the story of what his life could have been like in the entertainment industry, I realized it had no setbacks or challenges. There were no failed projects or scripts that never made it to the big screen. His story about the road not taken in the entertainment industry was smooth and flawless, while the story of his life in the steel business was full of complaints and regrets. In my heart, I felt a bit sad because my father had a dream that he did not realize. At the same time, I found myself thinking that he had a beautiful life, full of success, family and friends.

Still, my dad believed he had missed his “big chance” in life, and I could see that belief was causing him suffering. After sitting for a while with him, I said, “Dad, I think you are stuck in a Reverse Maybe.” He looked at me, puzzled, and asked, “What is a Reverse Maybe?” I explained. “You are re-writing a story about what might have been if you had pursued a career in the entertainment industry. But you have no idea what your life would have looked like if youʼd gone that direction. You might have moved to California and never met mom and I would not be here with you right now. Neither would my sister and brother. Sure, you might have been successful, but maybe the entertainment business would have been disappointing or stressful in other ways. Weʼll never know. All we know is that everything in your life has brought you to this moment. Weʼve had a lovely day together and I am so thankful for all the decisions you made so you were able to be my dad. I know my sister and brother and all of your grandchildren feel the same way.” He looked at me and smiled. “Maybe itʼs not so bad,” he said. We both laughed.

Regret is just a story we make up about how our lives could have been better if we had made another choice–but in reality, we really don’t know what the life not chosen would have looked like and we never will. The twists and turns of that life might have taken us to other, unexpected places and maybe not for the better at all.

All we can know is that everything thatʼs happened in our lives has brought us to this moment. Within this moment there is no regret. There is only the hope that Maybe we can create the lives that we want from this point forward.

A few months after our conversation, my dad, who is retired, started screening documentary films for a not-for-profit production company. Recently, he has also written a television pilot and advised a friend on re-writing a screenplay. He told me letting go of his regret made room for him to pursue his passions and interests in the present.

Who knows? Maybe this is his second career!


Do You Focus Too Much On What You Don’t Like About Your Life?


I was with my friend the other day and I was listening to her complain for thirty minutes about her how her husband always says the wrong thing when they are socializing with other couples and how he makes her life so difficult. In the middle of our conversation, she got a call from her doctor telling her all of her blood tests came back normal.  She was sick a few years ago and she felt so grateful to hear from the doctor that she was okay. All of a sudden she said, “Oh my goodness, why am I sitting here complaining about my husband when he took such good care of me when I was ill? What am I whining about?  I feel well today, my family is happy and I am spending the day with you.”

I smiled at her and thought to myself, why do we tend to focus more on what we don’t like in our lives and forget to be grateful and appreciate everything else that we love and enjoy?  Getting lost each day in everything that is not happening in our lives, or how our loved one said something hurtful or our project at work that is not going well can make us feel down, worried, and emotionally hurt.  These problems or issues take over our minds and we can become oblivious to all the other positive things that are going on from the simple to the magnificent.  It’s not that we shouldn’t get upset or acknowledge bad or irritating things that happen, it is just a matter of allowing our appreciation and gratitude to grant us perspective on what is important and what we do have.  Finding a bigger perspective allows us to couch the hurt and the pain in a bigger place – a place that gives us strength to persevere and not let every little thing that happens ruin our day.

A great analogy is going into a kitchen and only seeing the dirty dishes in the sink. Did you ever walk into your kitchen and open the cabinets and admire how many clean dishes there are?  When I heard this for the first time, I actually tried it and it made me laugh so hard! I never had entered my kitchen before and acknowledged that even with a sink filled with dirty dishes most of my kitchen is clean.  But when I did, nothing else seemed so bad.

So what happens when we acknowledge all the clean dishes in our lives? We stop our hyper-focus on the things that are bothering us and we expand to see the entire vista of our lives. We stop looking just for the faults and also look for what is wonderful and glorious. This is beyond being an optimist instead of a pessimist. It is seeing life in its entirety and acknowledging everything.  In fact, often there is so much to be thankful for and we see that so much is going our way. Just like my friend, who was able to see the importance of the love and support her husband gives her each day over some social interactions that made her unhappy.  I know she would still prefer he did not say certain things when they socialize, but she tells me it feels less important and does not overwhelm her as much when she appreciates all the wonderful good qualities that her husband has.

And for the things that continue to bother us even with a bigger perspective, keep in mind that in every moment there is always Maybe. Life keeps moving and as the winds change direction MAYBE things will improve and work out better than you ever imagined. Just Maybe!!

Are You Always One Problem Away From Happiness?

sunflower field and blue sky with clouds

 Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.  Soren Kierkegaard

So many clients tell me that if only one particular thing would happen in their lives, they would be joyful and stress-free. A business owner tells me she just needs to increase her sales to make more money, a writer tells me he just needs to sell his screenplay, and a parent tells me she just needs to get her child into a good college. They all believe that if this one thing happens they will have the key that opens the door on their peace and happiness. Yet when the business owner increases her sales, some of her expenses unexpectedly also increase and there is no extra profit. The writer sells his screenplay, but so far the producers cannot raise the money to make the film. The woman’s child goes to a good college, but now she worries her son won’t find a good job when he graduates. So each of them continue to wait for his or her key to the door to happiness and success in the future when everything, fingers crossed, will finally work out.

I think many of us walk around with a concrete image of what must happen for us to be content. Yet this way of thinking only serves to keep us in the illusion of the future and disappointed in the present. On some level we believe that if we can just solve a few of our problems, then we will be happy and free of stress forever. But we forget that life keeps changing and offering us new opportunities and new challenges.  What if, by focusing on the one thing that will bring us future happiness, we are putting off the enjoyment of our lives for a day that never arrives?

So how can we find peace and joy today, wherever we stand? We can cultivate a fundamental understanding that life is not about arriving somewhere but instead is about being here right now (wherever here might be). When we give up this belief that one day it will all work out, we allow ourselves to appreciate what we have.  Does it mean we won’t still strive to make it better? Of course not. But we can give up our resistance that nags, “Things are not right” and the illusion of “If I could just get this one thing, then I would be happy.” When we start to accept life as it is, we can start to make peace with our circumstances and possibly find joy in each moment.

DON’T WORRY – with that newfound peace and joy, you won’t be giving up on your dreams or aspirations. Far from it, you will work even more effectively toward the future you’d like to create for yourself. Let’s not forget – MAYBE is always at play!