On one of my recent social media posts, a commenter said she’d like to start taking a quiet moment each day to check in with herself—to notice what her body, mind, and soul are needing that day.
For some reason, my response got a lot of attention.
“I call this my Practice of Presence, and I do it every morning for ten minutes,” I responded. “It's helped me live as my true, authentic self – instead of who the world wants or expects me to be.”
From there, a trail of comments appeared…
Could you give me an example of what this practice looks like for you?
What questions do you ask yourself to figure out what you need?
I’d like to know more about this process.
A handful of people simply typed, “following,” so they didn’t miss what was shared.
Wow. I thought. Maybe it would be helpful for me to write more than just a few sentences in response to these inquiries.
I mean, there really isn't a better time. Here I am, stuck in place, unable to move freely or quickly, something I never thought I’d be able to endure.
But not only am I enduring this time on the sidelines with an obtrusive boot on my foot, but I’m actually thriving. And I’m certain it’s because of my Practice of Presence.
I know. Practice of Presence sounds like work, like another to-do on the never-ending list.
But it’s not. Believe me, it’s not. I started this practice when I couldn’t stay in the present moment for even a mere thirty seconds! I was a master at planning ahead… agonizing the past… and avoiding the pain of now.
Distracted living was my jam – and I actually made it look quite appealing. Only the people living in my home saw the cracks beneath the shiny surface, the pain that spilled out, contaminating their days, their lives, their inner fabrics.
I can’t tell you how many red flags I blew past until I finally stopped.
For me, stopping had a name. I called it, “Going Hands Free.”
Given my special education background, I was good at coming up with phrases to make goals more tangible, more doable. Small, practical steps to new, positive habits. That’s what helped my students—that’s what helped me.
I started my practice by simply noticing opportunities to meaningfully connect to what/who really mattered. When I saw an opportunity, I’d temporarily let go of everything in my hands, on my mind, or on my agenda.
The first time I did it, my then 4-year-old daughter Avery kissed the palm of my hand.
To say I was encouraged by her response would be an understatement.
I was motivated to continue this small-step process: Notice. Let Go. Be Here Now.
Every time I did it, I felt peace in my fractured, frenzied soul. I felt a tinge of hope that the damage of my distracted life could be repaired.
As time went on, I started going Hands Free alone. Being alone with my thoughts was a bit scary. Sitting still and resisting the urge to clean up a mess, make a list, or produce something was also very uncomfortable. But seeing what the Practice of Presence was doing for my relationships encouraged me to try it for myself.
I began starting my day by not checking my phone and instead opening my grandma’s Bible. I’d pour over her scribbles in the margin. My grandma was someone who loved me just as I was. No matter what mistakes I made, she always saw the best in me. Her loving affirmations were what I heard during that quiet time. Again, it brought peace to my aching soul.
Eventually, my Hands Free time was spent writing in notebooks, like I did when I was eight years old. Writing down my thoughts, fears, experiences, and dreams seemed to open up the speakers of my heart. For the first time in a long time, I felt HEARD. This was a turning point in pursuing the career I’d dreamed of since I was a young girl—becoming a published author.
What I did during these distraction-free times — whether I was alone or with someone, whether I was praying, journaling, or simply breathing – it really didn’t matter. What did matter were the conditions:
No to-do lists.
Just show up and listen—
And no judgement about what feelings or thoughts surface in the stillness.
Touching base with my inner world before making contact with the outer world was enlightening and empowering. I soon realized: The world thinks it knows what I need, but it doesn’t. My heart knows what's in my best interest, so I will keep making time and space to listen.
At one pivotal point, my Hands Free morning time became centered on breathing. I didn’t realize it, but I’d been holding my breath most of my life. I’d always heard there were endless benefits of meditation, but I didn’t think someone like me could possibly do it.
I started with a 60-second breather. For one minute, I focused only on the sound of my breath and let thoughts drift in and out—no judgement.
Finding that I felt less anxious after a minute of breathing, I shared it with my daughters. At the time, both were experiencing heightening anxiety from frequent school shootings and end-of-year testing. When I saw my older daughter begin holding a ‘go be love‘ medallion between her fingers and use the breathing technique, I knew the Practice of Presence was one of the most important gifts we can give each other.
I was committed to incorporating the Practice of Presence into my family’s life until the pandemic hit, which coincided with the release of my fourth book. Suddenly, everything seemed so uncertain, so out of control, that I reverted to my old ways of pushing myself until I broke down. The people pleasing, the feelings of inadequacy, the superficial measurements of success that I’d worked so hard to overcome were back in full force, threating my health and my wellbeing.
For the first time in my life, I reached out for professional help.
One of the very first things my therapist did was walk me through a mindfulness exercise. After a few minutes of breathing, she asked me to answer a question silently in my head.
“What are you needing right now?”
Tears started falling. The voice in my head screamed violently. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself pushing back demands, people, requests, and expectations. That’s when I realized the cost of letting my Practice of Presence fall by the wayside. I’d lost touch with my body, my limits, my needs, and my core values.
It was a lot like where I was when I started this journey ten years ago—but I was not back to square one. No, this time, I had a map.
Those ten-minute increments each day had taken me through vital territories: self-worth, self-forgiveness, letting go of perfection, boundary setting, and self-care. And always available as a place to stop and catch my breath was home base: The Practice of Presence.
We can always go back to start.
We can always go back to heart.
The Practice of Presence…
Healing begins with listening.
Throughout the past year of pandemic instability, isolation, and loss, I’ve practiced presence more faithfully and more creatively than ever before…
It’s a lawn chair I keep in the back of my car so I can sit in the sunshine before driving home.
It’s a game of “volleypaw” with my cat Banjo that’s played every night so I can hear myself laugh.
It’s morning stretches to ease my tight calves before taking my first steps.
It’s a basket of warm towels, fresh from the dyer, breathed in—folding optional.
And during these moments of presence, my heart and body have reminded me just how intuitive they were.
They told me my 14-year-old daughter was not ok.
They told me to stop all communications with a toxic person.
They told me to cease walking, my favorite activity in the whole world.
“You came just in time,” the podiatrist said fourteen days ago, her face lined with concern. “You are this close to a stress fracture.”
When she left the exam room to get the stabilizing boot, I cried with gratitude.
If not for the Practice of Presence, I would have not seen the warning signs – not in my foot, not in my child, not in my personal safety.
I would have just blown past the red flags, until the crash and burn, until the damage was done.
But now, thank God, there is healing happening.
I can’t usually see the healing, but there is one occasion when I see it clearly.
Since my daughter has been virtually learning, we often take a drive to get iced coffee on her lunch break.
When we pull up and see the long drive-thru line, I do not sigh with frustration.
“This gives us a chance to talk,” my Noticer of Life once said about the wait. And because I was fully present, I heard her. And I hear her now.
Sometimes we even leave our phones at home, certainly not a practice the world would approve of or recommend.
But the world with its tight, frantic, greedy fist, doesn’t know the peace of the open palm.
And that’s why I keep practicing presence – the simplest, yet hardest thing I’ve ever learned to do.
Will my practice ever be perfected?
But that’s not its purpose.
The practice of presence…
It’s our home base.
It’s our unburdening.
It’s our cleansing breath.
It’s our stabilizing force.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving—
Like a kiss on the hand that never rubs off.
Dear ones, one of the major components I teach in my Soul Shift course is the Practice of Presence in addition to several other vital practices I've discovered on my journey to live a life of peace, authenticity, compassion, and connection. I typically teach this course online, but I have also had the honor of teaching it in person. It was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had with 51 strangers who became family. This November, I’ll be leading Soul Shift at the Art of Living Retreat Center the tranquil hills of North Carolina. Given it's safe to travel and gather nine months from now, it would be my honor to meet you there. Click here for all the details and registration.
In the meantime, you can read much more about my Practice of Presence chronicled in LIVE LOVE NOW: Relieving the Pressure and Finding Real Connection with Our Kids.
Thank you for your presence and support.