Tag Archives: presence

8 Tips on How to Be More Present in your Day: Sunday, September 8, 2019

Ever since Lucas has passed I’ve been mulling over the lessons that he taught me on how to be more present during my daily living. These are 8 tips that have helped me be more present–and less anxious–during my day.

  1. Watch the sunrise. Lucas was a crepuscular being. He would be up before the sunrise. There is something depressing about getting up in the morning when the sun is already out. I’ve noticed that in getting up before dawn, I can listen to the evening crickets getting ready for bed and the crepuscular birds waking up with their morning song. Watching the sun rise with a cup of coffee gives me a feeling of power over my day, because I am watching the day start and the day is not watching me start. I can rejoice in the sounds of Nature and the beautiful sky colors of dawn. I can also rest easy in knowing that I won’t be rushing or be late to an appointment or class. I can rest easy in knowing that I can take my time in getting ready, which is very good, since I’m not a morning person and I’m notoriously slow in getting ready. I feel like I am in control of my day instead of the day being in control of me.
  2. Don’t check social media, news or your email; instead, write in a journal. If you get up and the first thing you reach for is your phone to consume social media, or to check your email, or to check the news, your day is off to a bad start. Many studies have shown that consuming social media leads to depression, and the news lately on upsetting topics such as climate change and Brexit, will not put you in the right mood for your day. Instead opt to keep a journal and write what writer Julia Cameron calls your “morning pages.” Cameron suggests three pages, but I must confess sometimes I fall short of this goal. But the overall goal is to capture the last vestiges of a dream, dump your thoughts for the day ahead, jot ideas for future writing projects, get troublesome emotions out and on paper, where they look less scary. Don’t edit yourself. Just write whatever’s in your head, and if that’s only half a page, that’s ok. If it’s more, even better, but the overall goal is to do a mind dump of your thoughts. You’re not here to impress anyone, so let me repeat, do not edit yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much your mind and soul are holding onto when you wake up in the morning.
  3. Gratitude journal. In addition to your morning pages, make sure to keep a gratitude journal. Write three things you’re grateful for in the morning, even if they’re the smallest of things. When I was living back in Cambridge, my gratitude journal would read something like this: 1) Thankful that I got up early and didn’t oversleep; 2) Thankful for my roommates; 3) Thankful for my friends on Twitter. Or, during hard days: 1) Thankful for the bird singing outside my window; 2) Thankful for the morning rain; 3) Thankful for a quick conversation I had with my mentor on the previous day. Being grateful puts you in a good mood and it makes you cognizant of even the smallest things around you that are working in your favor. You’ll notice what I mean the more you do it. Also, make sure you do this at night, right before you go to bed too, so that you can take stock of what went right in your day. It goes without saying that writing in your journal at night also reaps some great benefits, too.
  4. Gentle exercise. I like to do yoga and lift weights in the morning for many reasons. I suffer from a lot of anxiety and doing yoga allows me to re-focus my attention from myself and my emotions to my body. Once that re-focus takes place, my mind is concentrated on just that and my anxiety dissipates. I also like to lift weights because as I’ve been aging, I’ve been noticing a loss of muscle tone in my arms. The lifting of weights allows me to tone my arm muscles and bring definition to my arms. And again, it allows my mind to re-focus on my body and again, once that takes place I have to concentrate on making sure I lift the weights correctly and I can’t afford to think about things that worry me. I can’t afford to get distracted by anxiety, otherwise I will do the yoga wrong or hurt myself while lifting weights.
  5. Early morning walk. This one I learned from Lucas. Going for an early morning walk, without earphones, allows me to concentrate on the sounds and sights of Nature. My walks are meditations. I make sure to notice and take in everything around me. I feel very close to Lucas when I walk because I am noticing the things that he taught me to notice: birds, insects, snails, other dogs, scat, flowers, and City sounds. Walking also helps me think through projects and homework assignments, and I arrive at ideas or answers I wouldn’t have arrived at if I had been studying at home or at the library.
  6. In the evenings, clear clutter from your day and leave your desk clean and tidy for the next day. If you wake up to an untidy desk, I will assure you will be in a bad mood immediately. With no space to write your morning pages, with receipts laying strewn about, with unnecessary objects taking up space, you will be in a bad mood. There is nothing better than waking up to a clean desk with no papers. Just your journal waiting for you, with a pen.
  7. In the evenings, leave the dishes clean and leave your coffeemaker ready. This is just like leaving the desk clean. If you wake up to dirty dishes, you’ll be in a bad mood. Make sure that all of your dishes are clean when you’re done with your day. Also, leave your coffeemaker ready for the next morning, especially if you’re like me and you’re not a morning person. I have an Italian mokkapot, and I like to leave it set with water and the ground coffee inside it so that all I have to do in the morning is set it on the stove, and I’m set. I also like to leave my coffeecup and saucer out with two sugar cubes and ready to be used. It gives the appearance that an imaginary butler came in during the night and set up your breakfast coffee for the morning.
Image of a mokkapot from vivakoffie.nl

8. Go to bed at night at the same time, every night, including weekends. This tip is really for us anxiety sufferers. If your sleep schedule is haphazard and you go to bed at different times every night, I can assure you that you won’t be able to get up in the morning to watch the sunrise, and you’ll be rushing to work. Also, getting the same hours of sleep every night has a lot of benefits: it keeps you from gaining weight, it does wonders for your skin, and you wake up well rested and not groggy. Waking up groggy is the worst and it puts me in a bad mood immediately because it takes a lot of energy for me to drag myself around and get myself ready. If you’re new to this, I suggest you put an alarm on your phone for the same time every night that alerts you that bedtime is coming. That way you can start with your evening ritual: your nightly journal pages, washing your face and brushing your teeth, applying facial moisturizer, cleaning your desk and washing your dishes, and so on. The last thing you should do before going to bed is writing three things you’re grateful for. These things that we are grateful for should be the bookends to your day.

George Lucas: A Tribute: Friday, September 6, 2019

I had never been good at practicing mindfulness, or being mindful period, until I got a dog. Observing your breath, which has been extolled as the surefire way of becoming present, left me in such a deep state of hyperventilation I quickly needed a break from taking a break. I was also a person in constant, anxious movement, fretting about, starting projects but never finishing them, leaving things halfway done, forgetting items in places, moving from one thing to the next, in continuous apprehension. 

            But then I got George Lucas, a miniature schnauzer that was the doppelgänger of the Star Wars director down to the salt-and-pepper beard and pensive dark eyes. On our first walks I wanted to rush, but this was anathema to him. Things and objects needed to be smelled, taken in, mulled over, considered. Others needed to be thoroughly investigated for long stretches at a time, as if notes were being taken for a PhD thesis. I had to slow down, I was forced to slow down for the sake of my dog; otherwise, he wouldn’t enjoy his walks, and I couldn’t do that to him. 

And two whole new worlds opened up before me. Worlds I didn’t know existed because my anxiety had prevented me from discovering them.  During those walks, I had to completely focus my attention and energy to Lucas’s methodical walking mode and to what he found curious. I became aware of what the Japanese haiku poet Basho called the “cricket musician” and to the coquís, the tiny tree frogs that are native to Puerto Rico and croak a high-pitched “coh-kee” sound to attract mates. I would quietly observe Lucas investigate fire hydrants and the helechos (ferns) for the perfect place to leave a peemail. These investigations took time, and they would make me focus even more on our surroundings: the snail gliding peacefully toward a leaf; the lonely ant dutifully carrying a breadcrumb back to his people; the scary buzzing of an escarabajo (scarab) flying slowly and clumsily towards an unclear destination, which always turned out to be my hair; the zorzal pardo (pearly-eyed thrasher) singing his question-like song; the neighbor’s rooster’s quiquiriquí anthem; the fire truck’s siren to which Lucas would join in enthusiastic harmony.

            I had become aware and fully present to the worlds of Nature and the City. As a result of these walks, I became very attuned to my surroundings, particularly sights and sounds. I would view the world from Lucas’s perspective, discovering flowers that he found interesting and sounds that made his ears twitch independently of each other as he zeroed in like a radar on their source. 

            With these walks, my anxious state of being began to dissipate. Lucas’s systematic way of approaching life rubbed off on me, which was a good thing because I worked as a high school math teacher at the time. Instead of starting to grade a pile of exams and leaving it unfinished, I could now sit comfortably and grade them in one sitting. I would no longer leave things on at the stove to be burnt. I could start andfinish a book for pleasure. During my lunch hour at school, I would leave the school grounds and take myself out for a walk not only as a break from the fast-paced life of a high school teacher but also to enjoy the sights and sounds I knew Lucas would enjoy. I would also find myself paying attention to the ground like a red-tailed hawk, looking for any scrap of food or other unknown substance he might accidentally ingest. These walks were as if I were taking him out for a walk in spirit, and they were a balm for my soul. 

            But I became completely untethered from the worlds of Nature and City after the death of Lucas, which occurred two days before Hurricane Irma and seventeen days before Hurricane Maria. Since the electrical power grid was essentially destroyed by the two hurricanes, the City would be plunged into darkness and silence at night. 

            Suddenly I was very much alone, caught in an internal hurricane of grief I could not get out of, not even to fully absorb the physical devastation around me. Losing him to leptospirosis, a disease I too had contracted at the same time, felt like I had been uprooted—just like one of the thousands of trees around the island—and placed in a steel bubble where nothing but sorrow could touch me. 

            It was at night that I also became present to the silence of Nature. Since there was no power, so no light to read a book by, I would lie in bed straining to listen to the nature sounds I was so used to when I walked Lucas. But there were no coquís, no cricket musicians, no zorzal pardos, no roosters. Nature had become completely silent, and the silence was terrifyingly deafening. This drove me to crave other sounds, any sounds, and the only sounds were those of the neighbors’ power generators that ran on diesel, and the only smell was the stink of diesel. The fact that Nature was silent was a painful reminder that Lucas was gone. Every night, I would have to lie still in bed and strain to listen to something that wasn’t a generator but those sounds never came. Every night, I had to brace myself to my own internal hurricane.

            The timing of his death and the hurricanes was too much, too fast, too soon. And yet ironically, my mourning shielded me from crumpling like so many people did after Hurricane Maria, and I became present to a new kind of presence: the presence of urgency. While others went into denial, I sprung into action, perhaps as a way of not dealing with the violent emotional landscape within me.

            There was no gasoline? No problem. I would make a 6-hour line under the scorching sun with my car’s engine turned off until the gas station would open again. My whole left arm would get sunburned from sitting in the driver’s seat with the window down, but I didn’t care. 

            There was no food? No problem. I would make a 2-hour line at one of the two only restaurants that opened after the hurricane. 

            Wait, they only accepted cash because there was no Internet connection for the credit card system? No problem. I would make the 2-hour line at the only functioning ATM in my vicinity and pray I was lucky there was any cash left when my turn came up. 

            There was no propane gas for my mother’s generator? No problem. I would stand guard with her in front of her house, waiting for a San Juan Gas truck to ride by. At one point I ran behind one, but the driver ignored me. 

            These tasks kept me alive because they kept me busy and most importantly, not present to the uprooted ceibatrees, the defrockedamapolatrees, the cars’ windshields strewn over sidewalks, an apartment’s entire parquetflooring hanging from my mother’s patio wall, and the lampposts that had flown like projectiles now lying everywhere. 

            I couldn’t help but think of Mary Oliver’s poem “Hurricane,” wherein she writes: 

“…I watched

the trees bow and their leaves fall

and crawl back into the earth.

As though, that was that.

This was one hurricane

I lived through, the other one

was of a different sort, and 

lasted longer. Then

I felt my own leaves giving up and


            My own leaves had given up and fallen, leaving me naked with grief. I thought of Lucas and his final moment, when I had to say goodbye. And the first thing that popped into my mind to tell him was that in the grand history of the universe, a human life is very short. I remembered reading in David Christian’s “Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History” that the Universe is about 14 billion years old, the Earth 4.5 billion years old, the scale of human evolution about 7 million years old, the measure of human history 200,000 years old, the history of agrarian societies and urban civilizations 5,000 years old, and the chronicle of modernity a meager 1,000 years old. I also remembered reading The Dragons of Eden, wherein Carl Sagan popularized the concept of the Cosmic Calendar, in which he condensed the history of the Universe and the Earth into a 12-month calendar. We come into existence only near midnight on December 31st, when developments such as Stone Age tools and the Pyramids begin to appear. It is in the last second before the clock strikes midnight that the world becomes what it is and we know of today. 

            Keeping all of this in mind, our lives are then minuscule things when compared to everything that came before us. And the life of a dog even more infinitesimal but infinitely more precious. 

            I told Lucas that my life, in astronomical terms, would be short too, just like his, and that we would meet again. Because of the shortness of my own life, our approaching “separation” would be brief too and therefore he needn’t worry about not seeing me ever again. Because in the grand scale of astronomical time, we would meet again very, very soon. And in the same breath, I was trying to come to terms with the fact that I would never see him again, but that when I did, it wouldn’t be for long. I thanked him for giving me the honor of being his human for almost 12 years, a number I still wrestle with as being so unfairly short. I hope, and I think he understood what I was saying.

            It’s been two years since Lucas has gone, but my world has completely changed. I have not healed completely, and the clichéd adage that “Time heals all wounds” is not true. Some wounds never heal. One must accommodate one’s soul around them. While the grief is still there, I am reminded of a Robert Webb quote sent to me by a friend shortly after Lucas’s passing: “The sadness that we feel now, we can afford to hold close; safe as we are in the knowledge that grief is love’s echo. We only have to listen and it’s there. Today is a heavy day, but this is just an aftershock. The earthquake, the main event, as usual, was love.”

            When I walk now, I look up at the trees and notice the birds singing. Every time I hear a fire truck, I smile. Smells, both good and bad, are quickly detected by my nose. The tinkle of a dog’s tags immediately makes my ears prick, just like it did with Lucas’s, and I happily look around to see where the dog is. Things that used to scare me, like the sound of a scarab’s wings near my face, no longer do. 

            I have been broken but made more present to other people’s suffering, especially the one that you cannot see, the one that is unspoken. When I talk to people now, I listen attentively instead of interrupting. I watch and consider their body language. I no longer think of what I’m going to say next in the conversation while impatiently waiting for the other person to stop talking. I think before I comment, instead of impulsively saying whatever’s on my mind. This has made my conversations full of thoughtful pauses and silences, with which I am now, for the first time in my life, comfortable. I can read the mood in a room when I first walk in because I walk thoughtfully now. 

            In the evenings, I take myself out for a walk and have taken up the hobby of taking photographs in the blue hour. I listen to the song of evening birds. I notice ant marches and moth dances. I use an app to see what constellations and planets lay above me, like spilt blue glitter in an art classroom. And when I return home, it feels like I have just returned home with Lucas. His presence in my life has made me become more present in my own, and for that and a million other things, I will be forever grateful. 

Picture by Sofía Vélez-Calderón. Photoshop by @toddyfur on Twitter.