Tag Archives: being present


Have you ever told someone about something you had a problem with, and had them immediately jump in with a solution to your problem? We all have, haven’t we? And occasionally it’s useful and helpful, but often it is just somewhat annoying, yet you know they’re just trying to help.

Their solution can sound condescending or just be inappropriate. It may be something you have already considered and decided wouldn’t work for you, or it may just not fit for you or your particular version of the problem.

You see, most fixes offered are ones that would make sense in the fixer’s view of the world, rather than yours. The fixer is interpreting the problem in the way it would show up in their lives and offering the solution that would work for them. So they’ve solved the problem for themselves, should it appear, but not for you! The problem may sound the same as it would in their world, but the implications and impact of it in your world will be different. Similarly, the solution may work in their world, but it may not fit your way of sorting things out, or deal with all the implications for you.

Of course, we’ve all been that ‘fixer’ as well, and of course, we offer the solution because we want to help. So how can we help more usefully?

There are two ways we can be really helpful to someone with a problem. The first way is to take the time to allow them just to talk about it, without judgement or interruptions.

Many years ago, a friend of mine phoned to suggest she came round that evening. I was feeling really miserable and that the world was full of shit, so I told her not to. Ten minutes later, she knocked at the door. ‘I’ve brought wine, and pen and paper,’ she said. ‘I’m going to take notes while you tell me all about it, and we have a glass of wine.’

After about half an hour of pouring out my miseries, I began to feel my mood changing. I apologised for inflicting it all on her, and she said: ‘you didn’t. I was in a good mood anyway, and I feel just fine. I thought I could just be a light at the end of the tunnel, and help you to make your way through that tunnel.’ What a lovely description of what she had done to help me! She had kept herself feeling good, and allowed me to express what I was feeling so it came out of my mind and body, and I could get some perspective again. Just allowing me to talk it out made such a difference.

The second thing we can do for others is to ask questions that help them to sort it out for themselves, in ways that work in their world. A few useful questions might be:

  • What exactly is bothering you about this?
  • How would you like it to be resolved?
  • What would make it possible for you to sort it out?
  • What would help you to sort it out?

These sorts of questions help people to find their own answers, ones that will work for them.

So next time someone comes to you with a problem, don’t be a fixer – be someone who helps them to help themselves.


We spend so much of our lives doing stuff: work, chores, going places, watching things, talking with others. Even when we’re not busy doing, we’re usually busy in our heads: reviewing what’s already happened or thinking about what’s ahead of us.

And in all this occupation, we miss something important: this moment now. If we stop for a little while, we can appreciate our world, and be with ourselves more completely. I don’t mean some grand or difficult version of being present. I just mean that moment of noticing what’s happening around you, what’s going on with you, how you are in this moment.

For example, I am sitting in a courtyard with warm air around me. There are noises of people and movement and cars outside but they don’t feel intrusive – they just highlight the peacefulness of this spot. I am enjoying my morning cup of coffee and feel quite relaxed. And I feel comfortable with myself this morning. That’s it! It doesn’t have to be deep and meaningful – it is just a way of being present for a moment, before the mind rushes off somewhere else.

As we stop, we notice more of what’s around us in the world and can appreciate the buzzing of the bees, the light playing on the wall in front of us, the colour of a favourite cushion – whatever it may be – and take a little taste of delight. We can also assess our own state and if necessary, do something to improve it.

So why not take a moment now, to just be here, now, – and then another in an hour or so. It gives us an extra fillip to our everyday.


Last night, my friend and I went to see James Taylor in concert. It was wonderful and just reminded me of the vast difference between a virtual experience, through a screen, or listening on a player, and actually being there for the live experience.

Visually, it was captivating, musically it was perfect and delighting, yet it was so much more than that. The atmosphere was all-enveloping and warm, and the feelings evoked in us were obviously shared and therefore amplified by those around us. And James Taylor exuded love and joy and warmth which helped create that closeness with the band and the audience that grew with every moment – a wonderful feedback loop.

It was filling my memory bank with delight, and at the same time, calling to the front similar memories, linked to James Taylor, his music, other great concerts, and just joyous moments.

I came out completely filled up and replete, body and soul, with another amazing experience shared with my friend in both our stores of good times. And I was reminded of why I go to a concert rather than watching it on TV, or listening to the cd. It gives me so much more.

And on an everyday level, I also realised why I so much prefer spending time with someone face-to-face, rather than talking on the phone or emailing, messaging, texting. It involves so much more exchange of all sorts of information, and opportunity to influence the feedback loop between us.

I like my life to be rich. I can treat myself to the odd concert, but I can also enjoy the richness of live experience with people, with places, with life. How lovely is that!

Do exploit every possible moment of live experience – it’s so much more wholesome, in every sense of the word, than anything else we’re given.


We are contrary creatures! Most of us are poor at accepting how life is. We know from experience that it is not a smooth ride, yet we still struggle with its ups and downs. We fight the natural flow of life, both in its external form and in our moods and motivations.

When external circumstances are more difficult – our job is hard, the weather is bad, the item we wanted is out of stock – we rail against it, complain and wish it were different. When we are not in a good mood, we try to hide it, berate ourselves for having no good reason for being like this, or blame others. Yet we know that you can’t just wish it away. When we fight how things are, or how we are, we just perpetuate it – what you resist persists.

And we even resist when life feels good, rejecting compliments, telling ourselves that it won’t last. It’s a great way to spoil the moment!!

There is an alternative approach and it works more usefully for us. It’s called learning to accept. This word is powerful. It doesn’t mean give in or give up. It means to actively take hold of how things are. Instead of passively wishing things were different, we accept how they are. Then we are back in control, and we can do something about it.

For example: ‘I am feeling fed up today. What can I do that would cheer me up?’ or ‘It’s really cold today. So where’s my warm scarf and gloves?’

When we accept the state of affairs, we have the possibility of making a change that will help.

And if it’s a good mood, a good moment, our acceptance means that we give ourselves an extra boost. Enjoying and accepting a compliment puts an extra spring in our step. If we’re in a good mood, we can use it to tackle something we’ve been putting off.

Life isn’t logical; it’s an emotional experience. When we resist how it feels, we are fighting the way it works. It’s like wishing a one-way street allowed you to go the other way – futile! When we accept the way life works, it gets easier, and we can enjoy the ride..


It is so easy to miss the magic moments in our lives. They come in many forms, and it is not as if they usually have some major significance – they are just little reminders of what it’s all really about.

I’m talking about seeing the sun’s beams of light coming through the clouds, hearing a baby giggling with delight at something, smelling the scent of jasmine or roses as you walk past, that first mouthful of really good coffee or tea, feeling a few slight drops of rain on your skin when it’s been hot, exchanging a smile with a stranger you pass on the street.

These magic moments interrupt our normally busy minds, if we allow them in, and just for a moment, we stop and smile. And that moment is like a reset button. It puts a little more spring in our step, it lightens our thinking, it interrupts any negative stories we are creating in our heads, it gives us an opportunity to start again in our day.

Now we are all more likely to notice the magic moments when we are not caught up in our normal everyday lives. I always realise that there are hundreds of them every day when I am on Maui and taking life easy – and then tend to forget again when I get back to my normal life!

And I’m getting slowly better at noticing them no matter what is going on, because I recognise how much they can make a positive difference to my day.

So once in a while, let something catch your eye or ear, and give it a moment’s attention. Once in a while, just stop and appreciate that taste or smell, or sensation on your skin. Once in a while, look up and notice the person smiling, the baby laughing.

Let’s all have magic moments in our lives – they are there for the taking, if we give them a chance.



Most of us no longer live and work in real communities, where we know most people we encounter. We are often in close proximity to strangers, in shops, and buses and streets. So we have learnt to close ourselves off from others, to march along in our own bubbles of protection, increased these days by constant use of mobile phones/handsets with music etc.

This may be useful sometimes – when we are in a hurry, when we’re feeling irritable. A lot of the time, it means we lose out. We miss the beautiful flower in perfect bloom, the lovely architecture in a quiet corner. We miss the smile or brief greeting from people we pass. We miss the chance encounter with someone who asks us for directions or comments on the weather, and maybe has more of a conversation with us, if we are open.

None of these things take anything away from us – they all add a little extra pleasure to our day. And they cost us nothing but a few moments of our time.

It is easy to say this, sitting in a courtyard in Provence, on holiday, with lots of people passing by, so plenty of time and opportunity to practice! And sometimes we all need to close down for a while.

And sometimes, being open to the world around us will significantly enhance our day – just for a while..


I picked my first home-grown courgette of the season this morning, and it reminded me of some of the delights of growing stuff. A tiny seed planted three months ago has become a big plant with lovely yellow flowers and delicious fruits to harvest and eat – it’s like magic! And the taste is different from anything you can buy in a supermarket. In fact, it has a real taste, as do the strawberries, carrots, lettuce leaves, even potatoes.

We have lost touch with the natural goodness and freshness of home-grown food, and the seasonal delights of our fruit and veg. Supermarkets have made them available year round, but at the cost of their taste and goodness, using all sorts of methods to make them look good and last, at the expense of their taste and health-giving properties.

It isn’t just the joy of harvesting and eating that makes growing stuff good for us. We get a bit of fresh air on a regular basis, even sunshine sometimes. This gives us the vitamin D we need to be healthy. We have contact with the earth, which literally grounds us and helps to counteract the effect of spending so much time surrounded by concrete, tarmac, metal, bricks and mortar.

And we are reminded that nature (including us) works in cycles. It isn’t natural to have instant results – it takes time and there is a flow to it, if we want a sustainable result.

Once upon a time, our lives would automatically have included the activities of sowing seed, nurturing our plants and harvesting what we grew. Without that we would have gone hungry. That is no longer the case, as we can easily and conveniently feed ourselves without ever experiencing the process of producing that food – we don’t even have to cook it these days! It may make life easier, but it means that we miss out on the joys, reminders and health-giving effects that growing something gives us.

Now I know that not everyone will want to grow their own veg and fruit, but we could all just enjoy one thing grown in our own garden, or even just a pot on the kitchen windowsill: fresh herbs, a strawberry plant, some cut- and-come-again lettuce. The satisfaction is great, and it doesn’t have to be a lot of work.

And if you’re not into fruit and veg, growing a few flowers from seed is lovely. A few sweet peas on a tripod, a few marigolds in a pot – to sow the seeds and water them, and then have flowers a few months later is a treat for the soul.

A little bit of growing stuff is good for us. If you already do, appreciate the benefits and joys it brings you. If you don’t, get yourself a seed tray and some salad leaves seed, or some flower bulbs and a pot. Bring a little more nature and pleasure into your life.


I don’t think we realise most of the time just how busy our mind is. It’s like when you leave the radio or TV on in the background – you don’t notice the noise after a while, until you turn it off and you notice the quiet.

The mind runs a commentary on whatever’s going on, or whatever you’re doing, so it tells you the story of your life: ‘I’m just sitting down for 5 minutes because I’m tired. I won’t need long before I can get going again – don’t want to sink into lethargy – lots to do – although I wish I could just stop sometimes.’ Your mind also does past and/or future at the same time – like having two different channels running simultaneously! ‘ I did quite a lot today, but I didn’t finish my list of tasks. And I must remember to phone so-and-so, and what shall I have for dinner?’

It’s amazing that we don’t go a bit crazy with it constantly playing in our heads – or maybe we do!! And it isn’t usually very kind in its commentary, and sometimes it is downright mean and twisted in its reasoning.

So once in a while, it’s great to be able to switch it off and have a rest, but this is not as easy as switching off the radio and TV. I remember learning a meditation where you count the breath up to ten, and them start again from one. I told the teacher I just couldn’t do it: I’d get to about three and then be distracted by my thoughts. He laughed and said that was normal – you just start over when you realise you’ve lost it again. I still find that I rarely get to five, years and years later!

And once in a while, I realise that the noise in my mind has shut up, apparently on its own – so what has that effect on it? For me, something moving gently with a natural rhythm seems to work. It may be a sound or, more often, something I’m looking at. Examples would be: the sound and sight of waves breaking on the shore; leaves on a tree moving gently in the breeze; a candle flame or a real fire; the tick of an old-fashioned clock. If I stay paying attention to it, the rhythmic sound or sight seems to lull my busy mind to sleep for a while. It’s as if the noise gradually fades away until there’s nothing left.

And a little while of that quiet feels so restful, so refreshing!

So what allows you to have a break from your own busy head? Experiment, find out, and enjoy a few moments of peace and quiet.


I have stolen this phrase from a film I went to see last week. It is the title of the film, and meant nothing to me until I had watched it – if you haven’t seen it, do look for it – it is just lovely!

We all know what collateral damage means now, since they started using it in a war context: the unintended or unavoidable negative side effects of something. Collateral beauty simply describes the unexpected positive side effects of something which seems awful in itself.

At the macro level, it is the kindness and courage of people when there is a major tragedy. At a micro level, it is noticing the sparkle of the raindrops or the return of the birdsong after a heavy downpour. It is appreciating your ability to taste things after a bad cold and becoming conscious of the way nature creates beauty with blossom and flowers, when we are forced to stop our busyness because we are seriously ill.

For me, there are two useful reminders in the phrase.

  1. There is always some form of collateral beauty no matter what is going on. Nothing is wholly awful. We grow, we learn, we come to recognise our own strengths, when awful things happen. And even in the midst of that awfulness, there are always touches of sweetness to remind us that this is not the whole story.
  2. Much of that collateral beauty is always in our lives, should we choose to notice it. There is more kindness than cruelty shown by people in our world, even if it is less reported. Nature is always offering us treats for our senses, should we stop and pay attention for a moment. We can learn and grow and recognise our own strengths through good times as well as the bad ones.

So whatever your present circumstances, keep an eye out for the collateral beauty. It is the universe’s gift to us and we can only gain from it.


I have just spent three weeks in retreat. Others would call it a holiday, staying with one of my best friends. For me, it has been a delightful and useful retreat.

The word retreat means to draw back from, ad I have been able to draw back from the normal ‘noise’ of everyday life these days: no phone, no emails, no tv, no normal routines of my usual life. So my days have been about what was immediately there: sitting in the sunshine on the beach or on the porch; enjoying the conversations with my friend and others we have met with; reading something that I felt like reading. And being able to sit and do nothing, allowing my mind to go wherever it willed, including to nothingness.

This space away from it all has made me even more aware of just how much we are bombarded by demands on our attention and time, and by distractions from just being here and now. It is so lovely to draw back from all that!

And the process also gives us a different perspective on that normal everyday life we lead. With the space, we can see how we can maybe give ourselves a few more ‘mini-retreats’ in the midst of that busy life: a day without the computer or phone; an afternoon walking in the countryside; an evening reading a good book.

We almost become immune to that constant noise we live in, but it is still taking its toll from us, stopping us from just being with ourselves and the moment.

Life is too precious to miss because of the demands on us – so please give yourself a little break from your busy life and take a rest.