By Ben Peters
Imagine you are at a fancy restaurant and the person sitting across from you is none other than your childhood hero. That individual starred in your favorite movies. You had a poster of them on your wall growing up. And today you follow them on Twitter and Instagram. I can guarantee your mind would be riveted on that encounter. You might feel nervous, but you wouldn’t be on your phone. You wouldn’t be daydreaming or twiddling your thumbs. And you wouldn’t be thinking about the things you have to do once you finish eating dinner.
Mindlessness happens when the body is somewhere physically but the mind is in a different place altogether—when the lights are on but nobody is home. Mindlessness has reached epidemic proportions in the age of smart phones and omnipresent technology. You’ve all seen the laughable photos of families sitting together with every individual buried in their device. That’s been all of us at some point in the past. As a world, we’re more connected than ever but ironically we feel increasingly alone. Every expert in social sciences will tell you that human beings have a primitive psychological need for love and belonging, neither of which can be felt without the vulnerability present in face-to-face interactions. This is why the controlled, sanitized, often disingenuous connections we form on social media ultimately leave us dissatisfied. Brene Brown said it best in The Gifts of Imperfection:
A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men, and children. . . Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it require us to be who we are. . . [T] rue belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. . .
When we decide to put our phones away and be mindful in the presence of another human being, we are showing them that they are worthy of our time. Worthy of our time spent with them that we can’t spend doing anything else or ever get back. Presence is the ultimate respect, and it costs us something.
What we we’re also doing is making it possible for a genuine connection to take place. The kind of quality connection that authors like Brene Brown love to hail. But it can’t happen without mindfulness. And everybody can tell the difference.
If you are having trouble being present, ask yourself how you would behave if you were in the company of your childhood hero. Mindfulness is always possible, even if it takes some creativity on our part. What’s best of all is that when we give others our presence, they tend to return the favor. And it’s when everyone is fully present that genuine human connections can be made.
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