The Superpower of Being Present
Guest Post by Anthony Fleg, MD
DCG DADvisory Team Member
EDITOR'S NOTE: When Anthony wrote the following piece almost 6 months ago, there was more hope that we'd have a better handle on COVID-19 by now and, perhaps, more confidence we could fully honor our parental roles as "protectors." Let's all commit to being more present for our children – physically and emotionally – and spending more time digging in the dirt with them. We are living during a time when it has never been more important to recognize that dads and kids need each other. – Allan Shedlin, DCG Founder
A version of this post first appeared on Dr. Fleg's blog Writing to Heal on 4/5/20 and has been reprinted here with his permission:
I turned to my 2-year old daughter with a simple ask: “Can you worry about tomorrow for me?”
“My dear, all daddy is asking is that you worry about tomorrow. Just follow the lead of us adults who make it look easy. Can you do that for daddy?"
I would have gotten a similar blank stare if I were to demand that my daughter worry about what happened yesterday, last week, or 30 minutes ago.
Now, a quick question for all us adults: how much of each day do we spend worrying about the future, particularly as it relates to coronavirus? How much time does our mind spend on tomorrow, next week, next month, 2021, etc.? And similarly, how much energy do we waste on the worlds of “yesterday,” “last week,” and “pre-COVID?”
Think of the children in your life, in your family. Bring their presence to mind and imagine what a wonderful superpower they possess: an inability to live anywhere but the present. Their superpower is living in the moment.
This moment, the COVID-19 chapter of our world and of our lives implores us to be more like our children in this regard.
Being present is a wonderful thing. It relieves stress caused by focusing on failures of the past and worries of the future. Both realms are un-reachable, largely unchangeable. But at the same time, they both entice and tease our minds such that we often find ourselves everywhere but in the moment as we focus on changing what has already passed or what may (or may not) come to be.
Living as our children model so well – in the moment – has an immediate influence on our health and wellness. Tuning out the constant barrage of news about coronavirus and tuning into what is before you will bring calm, serenity, and a sense that all is okay. It will allow you to enjoy the moment, the small pleasures our senses offer us, things that pass us by when we are lost somewhere else on the time continuum. The touch of an elder, the smell of autumn, the way the wind feels against our cheek – open up to the present and it is all there for you.
Just ask the 2-year-olds.
In this time where we more than ever need to be there for family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and our larger community, there is no more important place to start than to work on being more present. When that phone call comes, a frantic and worried voice on the other end, they need a “you” that is grounded in what is. Not what was. Not what might come to be. But grounded in what is at that moment.
A simple ask for today – let’s rekindle that superpower of our children. Let us put aside the constant news feeds and social media posts about a world headed for disaster, election-related finger-pointing, and Halloween without trick-or-treating. All of it distracts us from the gift that is the present. Let us be more mindful to gently steer the thought train back to the moment when it starts to take us elsewhere.
I imagine coming to my toddler for advice, and instead of a blank stare, this is what I would hear:
“Daddy, watch yourself breathing. Pay attention to the sensation of 'being.' Fall in love with the moment you are in because you won’t have it back.”
“Now, daddy, can you dig in the dirt with me? Play, that’s my other superpower.”
Anthony Fleg, MD, is a proud daddy of four, husband, son, and brother. Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, he has called New Mexico home since 2008. He is a family physician and educator at the University of New Mexico's Department of Family and Community Medicine and College of Population Health. He's also a Coordinator/Co-Founder of the love-funded partnership, Native Health Initiative(NHI), and its Running Medicine program.