staying present

the gift of awareness in chaos

We’re sliding into a new “normal”, where getting really present might be our first, best choice in all things. Maybe it’s the way the world feels all topsy turvy right now, and my own need for some kind of anchor. Or maybe it’s the universe’s way of reminding us to be grateful for all these moments we have that we’re able to cultivate together?

It might be harder to see right now, but that magic of presence is still available to us – yes, even now. Even in the midst of what feels like total chaos – whether it’s the everyday kind or the once-in-a-lifetime kind, we can find that feeling where time seems to stop for just a second. Ironically, that’s all we really have and get to claim as humans – this, right here, right now. Whether it feels hard or full of ease, this time is a reminder of all that. I, for one, needed the reminder.

I think staying present in the midst of all this chaos is what makes a little bit of real-life magic possible. As a photographer, that’s exactly what I crave in my images (and in real life, let’s be honest.) I want those moments of presence and connection between my subjects—I want to pull out that story of how a family or a couple loves together when they are REALLY there with each other.

Often times, that experience of really being present with each other during our sessions is what my clients remember the most! But how do you ACTUALLY do that in real life?

It’s always good to have a few tools in your back pocket when things get crazy and you need to re-arrive right where you already are.

Here are a handful of tricks that I use with my family and my clients to make that space.

  1. Breathe. I know, this one seems SUPER obvious. But when I’m caught up in the DOING, I often forget the BEING. Try the 4-7-8 breath (developed by Dr. Andrew Weil). Inhale for four counts, hold the breath for seven counts, and exhale for eight counts. Do this for 4 breath cycles. I swear, it’s like actual magic—no matter what is going on, I feel instantly more grounded.

  2. Pick a Mantra. In the midst of all the things swirling in the world, it’s good to give yourself some perspective. Having a word—or two—that you can bring your mind back in a crazy moment can help reframe everything! My mantra? Just This. It comes from the idea that just this moment is enough, just this breath, just this feeling. It helps me drop my self-judgement and reground when things are spinning! True story: I got these words tattooed on my wrist a few years back so I don’t ever forget.

  3. Self Care. Our self-care is often the first thing to go when we’re in a crazy time! When you know you’re headed into a life sprint or you wake up and find yourself smack in the middle of one, be purposeful about your own care. Water, healthy food, good sleep, and a 10-minute walk every day (schedule it, for real) can work wonders for our ability to stay present. If you can do more (more water, more movement, even the occasional nap) go for it—but remember that enough is a decision, not an amount.

  4. Listen Well. The founder of Storycorps, Dave Isay, says that “listening is an act of love” and this just resonates in my bones. Often during a session, I’ll ask my clients to tell each other something special—maybe about the first time they knew they were in love, or what they are the proudest of about their partners. Taking the time to really listen to these answers (without a device in your hand, with eye contact, and maybe even a touch!) can be hugely powerful. The same thing goes to really listen to your kiddo’s crazy, meandering, 10-minute story about the moon and pizza. Really listening to each other without distraction creates this incredible space for intimacy that can’t be found anywhere else. Especially when we’re physically with one another ALL THE TIME, it’s easy to forget that actually listening can be such a saving grace.

  5. Gratitude + Appreciation. This one though. THE MOST IMPORTANT. It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to stay caught up (or just trying to keep up) that we often forget to be grateful for the bounty we already have—no matter how much that is! Lately, I’ve been reminding myself to say, “I get to…” instead of “I have to…” Even getting out of bed in the morning is something to be grateful for and something to appreciate, and resetting our frame of mind around our To-Do list in that way can be hugely helpful. Remembering the gifts we’re already given every day actually makes it easier to be more generous with others too.

If you take anything with you into this time of change and temporary uncertainty, let it be this: be where you are, and be all in. No matter what else is going on, at least you’ll be ready with a whole, present heart.