Practice Staying Present

January 13th, 2013 | Posted by Alison Spath in Life

Two summers ago I was out for a morning run and passed a man running with a young boy who was probably 9 or 10 years old.  I guessed they were father and son, and that was probably a good guess because the boy looked like a miniature version of the man.  I was impressed to see a kid running a nice pace along side an adult, smiling and easily holding a conversation.  I felt a little twinge of something at that moment – a twinge of hope that my kids might take an interest in running with me one day too.

When I returned home from my own run that day, I told Ava (then 7) about the father and son that’d I’d seen running together and asked her if she’d ever like to run with me some time.  She said “sure!” and that was the end of it.  Neither of us had any more questions or thoughts on the topic at that moment.

This idea of her running with me came up again at the end of last summer, just as I was getting back to running after Kaz was born.  We went out and bought her a pair of running sneakers as her existing sneakers were too heavy and clunky to be ideal for running.  The timing for her to join me never seemed to line up though – either I went too early while she was still sleeping or she wasn’t interested when I offered for her to come with me.  No big deal, it will work out eventually.  Or it won’t.  It’s OK either way.

But then this morning, an unusual (for upstate NY) beautiful 60 degree mid-January morning, I announced I was leaving soon for a run.  I ran yesterday morning but couldn’t resist the opportunity to get out again in this warm air while it’s here.  The snow and cold will be back soon.

From the kitchen table and still wearing her pajamas, Ava said “if I hurry and get ready right now, can I go with you?”

There was a split second when I was ready to say “No”.  I was looking forward to going out by myself and running my own pace and my own distance.  The weather was even nicer this morning than it was yesterday morning.  But wait, isn’t this what I wanted?  For her to want to run with me?  Fortunately I caught myself and said what I try to say more often than I say “No”:

I said “Yes”.

(And then I probably said “Hurry up!”, two other words I should say less often too.)

We set out and ran 1/3 of a mile at a leisurely pace before she needed to slow to a walk.  I explained that this is how you learn to run; you run some, you walk some, you run some more.  The more you do it, the better you get at it.

She seemed to be listening, I tried not to lecture too long or repeat myself too much.  And then it was my turn to listen as she told me about her dream from the night before and we continued to run and walk.  I initiated each running interval, she initiated each walking interval.

Soon though, she didn’t want to run even short distances anymore, so we just walked.  We explored the wooded area on the opposite side of the river from where we live.  She threw rocks and big sticks into the water and at ice chunks, trying to determine (in theory only) if the ice might be thick enough to hold her weight.

We walked on, heading for the next pedestrian bridge to cross back to the other side of the river and make our way home again.  We talked about the warm weather and the wildlife we saw.  The re-telling of her dream continued as well.  Every time we were passed by runners on the river path (and there were plenty of them out today) I felt a little twinge of something – a twinge of wishing I was running too.

I caught that twinge each time it tweaked me though.  Be here now.  Stay here with your daughter.  Listen to her stories and words.  Feel the air on your skin, the sunshine on your face, the earth under your feet.  She’s so old and tall and strong!  Having a baby in our family again has helped me appreciate just how much she’s grown these last eight and three quarter years.  She’s so far away from the baby she was just a short time ago, a time when I was eager for her to be a big kid and could go for runs and bike rides with me, when she would be old enough to make observations, to tell me about what she was thinking, to wonder about the world around her.

How often are we doing something we enjoy and our minds are some place else?  Or to be thinking we should be doing something different?  Out for a run and thinking I should be using that time to do yoga.  Running errands and thinking I should be home cleaning.  Reading a website I like and thinking I should be reading a book instead.  I had to keep beating back the urge to write this very blog post in my head while we were out together!

So that’s all we can really do – try and catch ourselves when our minds are wandering and we’re missing what’s happening right here, right now.  Be here now.  Enjoy this moment – it’s all you ever really have.  The past and the future exist only as thoughts in our minds.  By the time the future gets here, it’s now the present.

That doesn’t mean we can’t think about the past or plan for the future, but when you find that you’re being carried off by your thoughts and (especially!!) if those thoughts are negatively impacting your feelings and emotions – catch yourself.  Bring yourself back to the present moment.  Breathe.  Notice your breath.  Pay attention to all the things that are happening around you – from the most obvious down to the littlest detail.

Staying present is like anything else you want to get good at – being active, eating healthy, running, yoga, parenting – it’s a practice.  The more you do it, the better you get at it.  You can even practice right now.

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