Morning walks this time of year always seem to reveal life lessons. Whether it’s an unusually simple cloud formation or a homeless man balancing his found possessions precariously on a “borrowed” grocery cart, there’s always something that connects with what I’ve been thinking about. Two words, simplicity and presence, have been swirling around in my mind lately.
I’m constantly reading or listening to experts on child development talk about limiting screen time (ours and our children’s) and becoming more present. Over the summer, in particular, I’ve personally been looking at my own lifestyle, exploring ways I can simplify. These two words seem related and interconnected somehow. A lot of it involves priorities, what we fill up our living spaces with, how we spend our money, the people we choose to be around, what we do with our time. Simplifying might mean choosing to do a few less activities to make more time to just be home with our families. It might mean clearing excess clothing out of our closets or taking the time to eliminate a pile of magazines that will probably never be read. Simplifying may be planning meals for the week, intentionally shopping for food on one day, and prepping lunches for several days at a time. Efficiency and simplicity in this sense are related.
The homeless guy I noticed juggling possessions precariously on his cart served as a metaphor for what we often do with our lives. We’re so busy managing the juxtaposition of “stuff” that all our energy goes into the managing, rather than enjoying or being present to it. Even when it’s all good stuff, the managing ends up taking quite a bit of our attention. Presence is essentially where we place our attention, so it makes sense that by simplifying, we have less to manage and can give our attention to what matters most.
A topic that keeps coming up these days is the increase in children’s stress levels. This can be blamed on social media, technology, busy lives, and general exposure to topics children were not previously exposed to, such as climate change. Some of this can be prevented, and other parts are a given that we’ll need to find ways to work with as we raise our children. We can’t completely remove stress-producing influences in our children’s lives, but there are shifts we can make that can minimize them.
One way I believe we can do this is by examining our schedules and simplifying as much as possible. The other part of it is developing a practice of presence to our children. For me this looks like putting my phone away when I’m around the children in my personal life. It involves listening to them, giving my attention fully to what they are interested in and need from me at the moment. In the words of Eckhart Tolle, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” Our children are the NOW, and we have an opportunity to enhance their lives and ours by being more present.