Forgetting to Look Down

Third time is a charm, right? The first two times I went to Bryce Canyon National Park there was too much snow on the ground to walk the trails. Middle of the summer on those occasions, too. A long way to travel to not get to explore.

But my third time to Bryce was a beautiful, slightly chilly day in May 2008. My buddy Dan and I had already walked the much longer Fairyland Loop Trail, but there was still too much to discover. So we decided to take the Navajo Loop Trail as well. It seemed a short enough trail.

Never before had my neck hurt so much from walking on a trail. You head almost straight down steep switchbacks into a slot canyon called Wall Street. Once you descend into Wall Street you can’t help but look up. All the beauty and majesty is up.

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Coming back up out of the canyon you have the same problem…all the beauty is up. Looking up and walking uneven trails created another problem…lots of stumbling. It wasn’t a bad problem to have, unless you fell. Then you would have a sore neck and damaged legs.

I’ve written before about the Fine Art of Looking Up in dealing with depression. I made the observation that looking up is like looking outside yourself and necessary if you are going to come out from under the cloud of depression. But now I want to share how looking down is comparable to keeping present.

We have the wonderful capacity to fear the future when we look at all going on in our world and our lives. We also have tremendous ability to remember what we have been through and get locked up by trauma and experiences of the past. It is so easy to focus on one or the other and completely forget to be present with the people and situations of right now. We miss out on life when we can’t be present.

There is an art to being present. Not to say that I am an expert this in the slightest, that is why I write. I need to remind myself constantly to look down. I fear the direction the world is headed politically, socially, and financially. I can get so focused on those factors that I forget what is important and right in front of me. I’ve worked hard with two counselors in two seasons of life to release a lot the experiences that caused me trauma and heartache so that I’m better at handling how my past affects my now. But I still need to get better at being present.

How can you tell you aren’t looking down or being present.

  1. You aren’t laughing…which means you aren’t listening.
  2. You aren’t learning…which means you aren’t observing.
  3. You aren’t growing emotionally…which means you are stunted emotionally by focusing too much on the past.
  4. You aren’t growing relationally…which means you aren’t engaging in give-and-take conversations with people in your life.
  5. You aren’t hurting…which means you aren’t trying anything different from the past or are medicating yourself with an addiction to avoid feeling.
  6. You aren’t thankful…which means you look at the past, and the future, pessimistically and unwilling to see experiences as building blocks.
  7. You aren’t hopeful…which means you look only at the potential downside of the future.

What are some things you can try in order to grow in being present.

Listen. Try to really listen when people are speaking. Try to hear the emotion of their lives behind the words. Listen for longings…ways that people wish their world was truly like. Cry with the hurting, laugh with the joyful, encourage the down-hearted.

Observe. Try to notice the world around you. There is a lot that we miss when we look only at ourselves. Take walks. Count things you see. Use all your senses. Try a new hobby. Take in information so that you are doing something in the now. Laugh when you mess up. Laughter is just about the best thing for you.

Converse without judgment. One of my favorite quotes by Pete Scazzero, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, is “Ask questions with curiosity and compassion.” If you can do that, you will be able to practice conversation without judgment. It unlocks the door for others to feel safe and share more about what is truly going on in their lives. My counselor says “trust is the currency of relationship.” Becoming a safe person to talk to allows relationships to flourish because trust flourishes. Listen more than speak. Become a student of people.

Be curious. Within limits of course…don’t go rifling through people’s drawers (although I have at times). Curiosity is similar to being observant, but it is one step beyond because curiosity asks the question behind the observation. Why is that there? How does that work? What would happen if I did this? Being curious allows you to ask questions of things right in front of you (a.k.a. being present).

Be courageous. It takes courage to feel the darker emotions of life. We have all become masters at trying to avoid the bad feelings, but neurosis are made worse by trying to avoid. You may need help to do this—a counselor, a wise friend who has been through a difficult season, someone who has overcome an addiction. They have usually faced hell and survived. Fear is hard to face, but amazing to overcome. It takes practice to learn how to manage all those negative emotions, but you will feel so much more alive. Be courageous and allow yourself to feel.

Be willing to look at things differently. At some point I needed to consider some of the grueling events of my life as being the things that made me who I am. I had to stop looking at the hurt and start seeing how the experience allowed me to overcome. Re-evaluating events from the past and considering them building blocks in my life helps me step into gratitude. Becoming thankful allows you to step out of a victim mentality and into a overcomer mentality. You will find yourself more hopeful when you become more thankful.

Ask for help. Nothing makes us more acutely aware of the present than asking for help. “I can’t do this” is admitting in the now that we have a need and we can’t fix it. It is humbling to ask for help, but it is also a beautiful thing because it allows someone else to enter into the now with us. And you get to learn that you are not alone. I ask for God’s help all the time. King David in the Bible did the same, “Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. (Psalm 86:1)” He was a king but also human and knew when to ask for help. We all need to become better at this.

So what about you? Do you struggle with being present? Do you look up but never down? What area can you choose to engage in this week to practice being present more?

Of all the national parks I’ve traveled to, I think Bryce Canyon National Park has the best views. The rock formations are so unique and beautiful. I’m glad I made the effort to go again in spite of my snowy record. I looked up, I looked down, and I looked out. And I saw some amazing stuff each direction I looked. So don’t forget to look down, and then don’t forget to look up and out too. Don’t miss all the beauty that is around when you are truly present in your life.

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