Present

“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” – Jim Elliott

I stayed in a hostel for the first time while I was traveling to Spain. What an experience! The people I met there were fascinating – truly the wanderers of the world. The adventurers. These are the masters of taking advantage of life, right? They are the pros at living life to the fullest, aren’t they? They seize the moment, live life to the fullest, take opportunities they’re given, live without risk or regret, are present and alive. The explorers, the experimenters, the searchers.

These wanderers and hostel-stayers seem like they’re getting the most out of life and are truly present – no phones, no distractions, traveling with minimal baggage, seeing the world, no regrets. Or are they searching, like the rest of us, and only seem to be fulfilled because they can’t hear their hearts cry among the noise of travel and adventure?

The notable thing about these people (besides their varied accents and crazy life stories) was that they spent a lot of time with each other in the hostel. I had two days in a hostel in Seville and I spent them running myself ragged to see all the sights of the city. But they weren’t doing that. While I was seeing the city, many of them were spending time in the lobby together, talking over dinner, and going out for drinks together. I couldn’t figure it out at first. I wanted to say, “What are you doing?! You are traveling the world because you want to see the world! Go see it!” But I soon realized that they were finding exactly what they were looking for, even if they didn’t realize it. They needed each other, even though they were strangers. They sought community. They had the world at their fingertips (literally) but still so evidently sought to be present with each other.

What does it mean to get the most out of life? What does it mean to be truly present? Being “present” means far more than paying full attention, not being distracted, and capitalizing on the moment. It means being present with my whole being – being present in body as I live in the moment with all five senses, being present in soul as I allow myself to feel and connect with what’s happening, being present in mind as I actively engage and think about people, places, and events, and present in spirit as I seek to know others and to be known. My generation speaks so much of being present in the moment, but we are so bad at this settling-in type of presence.

All of me, entirely present where I am. It matters less where I am and more how I am there.

Nothing about being wholly present is easy because it takes effort and oftentimes it doesn’t even feel worth it, because being present leaves all of me open to a world of hurt. It’s putting all of myself into one place, one people. It’s safer to be partially present in multiple places.

What is it exactly about this being present that  is so hard? Being present means more than just living up each moment and taking advantage of all the adventure. Being present where we are planted means sinking deep into community, settling in, being vulnerable, being invested. “Living to the hilt” means doing the selfless and hard work of investing in a place and in a people. My suspicion is that this doesn’t always feel like “living to the hilt” because there is not as much glamour or exotic adventure. I don’t want to hit-and-run when it comes to life: adventure after adventure, wonderfully “present” in every moment, but never truly present with my whole self in any of it if I haven’t given myself to any place specifically. It’s easy to put down our phones, catch a plane, and make the most of each moment. It’s hard to be present somewhere to the point of knowing others and being known.

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