The Gift of Presence: A Mindfulness Guide for Women

The Gift of Presence: A Mindfulness Guide for Women

by Caroline Welch

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Overview

A practical, user-friendly guide for women seeking focus and calm in the midst of life's storms.

Overwhelmed by the demands of family, work, and multiple responsibilities, many women find themselves feeling scattered, and distracted. In this eye-opening book, co-founder and CEO of the Mindsight Institute, Caroline Welch takes readers on a mindfulness journey to help them de-stress and cultivate inner peace. According to Welch, you do not need countless hours sitting in silence to be more present in your life—the key is to practice mindfulness wherever you are and whenever you can.

The Gift of Presence guides readers in developing four innate capacities we all possess that will allow us to become more resilient and centered in our lives—even when life is throwing all that it has at us:

Presence: the ability to remain firmly in the present moment; to be fully aware of what's happening as it's happening.

Purpose: the personal meaning that gets us going and gives direction to our lives.

Pivoting: an openness to change that allows you to switch direction if that is what is needed.

Pacing: the awareness that it is impossible to do everything we want or need to do all at once; the ability to take life one step at a time.

This life-changing book reveals that you already hold in your hands the keys to a more harmonious life—you simply need to look within.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143132141
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,215,215
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Caroline Welch is the CEO and Co-founder with Dr. Dan Siegel of the Mindsight Institute in Santa Monica, California. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School with a master's degree from the University of Southern California, she started her career in law as a corporate litigator. Welch has served as a Los Angeles County court-appointed mediator, as well as in house counsel at MGM Studios and Spelling Entertainment Group. She began her mindfulness practice forty years ago while working in Japan as an English teacher for three years. Welch provides lectures and workshops to enhance well- being in our personal and professional lives. She and her husband live in Santa Monica with their dog Charlie, and have two adult children.

Read an Excerpt

As I was rushing through the airport to catch a flight, phone in one hand, handbag over my shoulder, trying hard not to spill my coffee as I maneuvered through the early-morning crowds, the cover of a magazine showing an elephant teetering on an exercise ball caught my eye. I only read the first two words of the headline: “Forget balance . . . ,” but that was all I needed to see. I stopped to buy the magazine. It turned out to be the Harvard Business Review. What was it about those two words—“forget balance”—that made me feel calm, peaceful, and deeply relieved? After thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that I was constantly swimming up-stream to attain some magical balance in my life, both personally and professionally. The prospect of abandoning the search felt freeing. After all, balance suggests a state of equilibrium between two things. But who has just two things to balance in life? 

As women of all ages and stages are called upon to play more and more roles, we often feel overwhelmed, on edge, and depleted. Most of us serve as command central for multiple life domains. We have more tasks than time, which means more juggling than balancing. Simultaneous demands and high expectations—imposed not only by others but also by ourselves—have led to pervasive multitasking and our ongoing, futile quest for balance—all of which are exhausting us. 

Is there anything that can help make us be more calm and less chaotic? More at ease and less burdened? More focused and less distracted? Are there some things that we might already be doing and ways of being that are important for us to continue for our well-being? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” The mental state of Presence can provide exactly what we need in our lives.

Presence is a calm, clear, open, receptive state of mind that can also simply be called mindfulness or mindful awareness. It’s being aware by paying attention to what’s going on as it’s happening without getting carried away by our judgments or opinions. Presence is a free, natural resource that is available to us anywhere and at any time. No special equipment is required. Being more mindful or present can create many research-established enhancements in our lives, from our medical health to our relationships. Presence can reduce stress and build resilience.  When we are present, we are mind-fully aware of life’s ups and downs, strengthening our ability to not only handle difficulties, but also be more joyful. 

Mindfulness embodies a dynamic, active process of growth and change, a way of being present in order to make informed and ef-fective choices when it comes to embracing the many and diverse yet interconnected dimensions of our physical, mental, and social well-being. Take a moment to consider how it would be for you to . . .
be on autopilot less often.
say the right thing at the right time more often.
be empowered to say no without guilt.
spend less time in unhelpful thought loops.

Believe it or not, these are all within your reach. We’ll be discussing how being present can, over time, become our default way of being, more and more often. 

Here’s an example of Presence applied to your everyday life: Think of a time when you said the wrong thing and you knew it as soon as you spoke the words. We’ve all had this experience. Words once expressed can’t be taken back. But what if you could take a split-second before acting to respond, rather than just react? Think of it as placing a tiny but powerful buffer between the trigger of what was said to you and your response. It’s the difference between blurting something out reactively and responding mindfully. 

I wrote this book with the intention of making the why and the how of mindfulness clear, accessible, and sustainable for anyone won-dering, “How is this ever going to fit into my busy life?” The short answer is that it’s not going to fit into your life, or sit at the bottom of your to-do list, but rather that mindfulness can become a way of being, a way of life, a state of mind, that will infuse more and more moments of each day. You’ll likely be relieved to know that being mindfully aware does not mean more goals to meet or standards to live up to. I’m not adding more to what’s expected of you but rather offering a different way of approaching what’s already facing you each day that ultimately can make a difference, so that you can feel more peaceful, more on top of it more often, or at least “gainin’ on it,” as my dad used to say.  You can begin to feel calmer and more grounded, any place and any time—as soon as today. Everything in this book is an invitation, not an expectation. 

One thing I’ve learned over the past twelve years of working at the Mindsight Institute and offering mindfulness workshops for women is that many of us are aware of the benefits of mindfulness, and may even have had a mindfulness practice, such as yoga or med-itation, for a few weeks, months, or even years, but then life got in the way and that was the end of the practice. Whether you are un-familiar with or new to mindfulness, had a practice at one time but couldn’t sustain it, feel guilty for not having one, or aspire to deepen your practice, this book invites you to make small changes that can lead to big impacts. Just as when we’re getting settled in a cozy, over-sized chair, a slight adjustment can make a huge difference. 

My own journey with mindfulness began over forty years ago when I was working as an English teacher in Hiroshima, Japan. One of my students introduced me to a small temple nearby called Buttsu-ji where I started to attend weekend retreats. I couldn’t un-derstand much of what little instruction there was in Japanese, but I did over the next three years come to treasure the inner peace and quiet I experienced during my visits, which involved sitting in silence on a tatami mat, as still as possible, in the long, chilly meditation hall for one to two hours at a time and doing various tasks around the grounds of the temple. I could not have imagined then how mindfulness would not only become so popular in the United States and throughout the world, but also come back into my life and play such a prominent role, both personally and professionally. While working as a corporate litigator, for example, my mindfulness practice was the one thing that I could rely on to keep me centered and (mostly) confident that I could handle whatever the day might bring. 

I became curious about how we cultivate mindfulness and apply it in our everyday lives, so I interviewed more than one hundred women from diverse backgrounds to try to understand its impact throughout the course of their lives. From their powerful stories, a pattern emerged in which I noticed that Presence played a key role in their well-being and was evident in three aspects of their lives: Purpose, Pivoting, and Pacing. I came to call these “the 3 Ps.” Presence provides the essential starting point, the foundation for all 3 Ps. 

The first P, Purpose, is our life’s aim, which gives us direction and provides meaning. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. Like Presence, Purpose is free, and its benefits for our well-being are so extensive that if it were a medication, we would call it a miracle drug. Research shows how powerful having a Purpose is for us at any age—it can add years to our lives, cut the risk of Alzheimer’s by more than half, and increase our resiliency, to mention just a few of its major health benefits. These are benefits that we can all enjoy, so we will be exploring how to find and sustain Purpose as we move through our lives.

The second P, Pivoting, offers us the option to make a change when necessary—or even before absolutely necessary—and, as in basketball, keep one foot in place while exploring and determining what’s possible. Decision making can be daunting and unsettling as we often fear failure and resist change. However, with Pivoting we are reminded that we have the support of our relationships, expe-rience, and resources before, during, and after making changes. And proactive Pivoting—making a change before we are forced to do so—usually means having more options. 

The third P, Pacing, refers not only to the speed at which we live our lives but also the overall trajectory of the many marathons and sprints that we run back to back. No matter our ages or stages, we sometimes feel that we need to figure everything out at once. Through the wider, more nuanced lens of Pacing we can come to realize that we need not do it all, all at once. With a longer view we can come to more readily embrace the life chapter we are in, take time to savor what’s present, and welcome new experiences as they arise with our changing life phases.

The women whom I interviewed for this book comprise a di-verse group from around the world, ages twenty-three to ninety,  representing different demographics, including life stage, ethnicity, race, nationality, employment status, gender identity, and occupation. I interviewed women like Beyza, a single mom of a teenager who left her “claustrophobic” job in finance for one in a hospital that would “feed her soul”; Melissa, a teacher at her local community college, who led what she called “a less complicated life than most” until she lost her home in a devastating California forest fire; Danielle, who left a demanding career in advertising to raise her three children; Zhang Wei, a psychotherapist who lost not only her brother at a young age but her twin sister when she took her own life as well as the lives of her two children; and Guadalupe, a single mom who works long, unpredictable hours in the clothing industry. 

The women also represented various levels of experience with mindfulness, from having a formal, daily mindfulness practice to feeling guilty for not having one, to having no formal but many in-formal mindfulness practices. Guadalupe, for example, has no formal mindfulness practice, but gave examples of being very present for her life. As she opens her front door upon returning home from work each day, she takes just one breath before she steps into her house. She has found that this seemingly small practice has made it possible for her to be present for her daughter, which has made a huge difference in their relationship.

On more than one occasion during an interview, the inter-viewee would say something along the lines of “I am the most un-mindful person you know.” I then thought to myself, That actually is a very mindful thing to say. This brings us to one of the main mes-sages of this book. Mindfulness can infuse our everyday life, and it’s likely that you are already being present for some, if not several, mo-ments in your day, as was the case with Guadalupe.  My hope is for you to come to appreciate the power of those moments over time and build on them as best you can, making Presence a way of life. 

Please know I’m a work in progress, just like everyone else. I can’t say I don’t have hectic days, because I do. For example, I recently missed an event on my calendar and even broke my toe while rushing to the airport (yes, the airport again)! However, when I take time for my mindfulness practice especially on those days when I feel I am too busy to do so, I notice the difference. What’s different? I feel calmer, more centered. I even feel calmer when I’m surrounded by chaos. I also move through the day bringing my most resilient self forward more often, which means more focus and less reactivity.

For those of us who work long hours at home or in the work-place, who receive unequal pay, are objectified, have unreliable child care, hit a glass ceiling, or feel exasperated at the end of a long day in unenlightened work environments, I’m not saying just be present and all will be well. Presence is not a panacea, not a cure-all for the many challenges we face. I wish I could offer you the power of Panakeia, the Greek goddess of universal healing, but I can’t. What I am saying is that while we can’t control others or world events, we can control how we choose to respond to what’s happening around us—and even within us. And that can allow us to feel more at ease and more in charge of our lives. 

I’ve written this mindfulness guide for women, but of course anyone can benefit from reading it. In fact, even though my work-shops and lectures are usually directed to women, there are always a few men in the room. When I’ve asked the men why they’ve chosen to attend, they respond along the lines of, “I want to be the best uncle I can be by doing what I can to know the life of my two nieces who are just starting their careers,” “I’m a teacher and I want to better understand what’s going on with my students,”  or “I just want to learn more about my partner.” 

Throughout this book, you will notice (I hope) the represen-tation of a water droplet. In the figure, the  vertical, mirrored feature symbolizes the past and the future, and the horizontal feature rep-resents the present or spaciousness. Being in a state of Presence is often described as experiencing spaciousness and equanimity. Whenever you see the water droplet, I invite you to check in with yourself and see if you are present.

Don’t be alarmed if you notice the water droplet and realize that you’ve been ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Perhaps you are concerned about an email you sent recently or an upcoming deadline. This type of mind-wandering is natural, and in fact, it’s to be expected. We actually spend about half of our waking hours consumed by constant thought loops, most of which are repeats. When you realize that your focus has wandered, just gently, kindly bring it back to the book—without berating yourself, please! Con-sider the water droplet a gentle cue to pause and become present—one quick example of an informal, impromptu mindfulness practice. Being present is a skill we can cultivate; just like building any other skill, it takes practice, and that’s why we cultivate Presence, mind-fulness, or mindful awareness through practices both formal and informal.

The idea is to notice, to become aware, to pay attention, to place your mind and body in the same place at the same time. The water droplet reminds us to inhabit the only moment we have, this one unrepeatable, present moment. Research confirms that being present, as in focusing our minds on what we are currently doing, creates more well-being.

We are all on this journey together to develop the confidence that we can handle whatever comes our way by accessing our most resilient, flexible selves. Let’s begin now.

Table of Contents

Introduction xv

Part 1 The Power of Presence 1

Part 2 Presence and Purpose 87

Part 3 Presence and Pivoting 131

Part 4 Presence and Pacing 169

Everyday Principles of Presence 209

Twenty Suggestions for Living with Presence 211

Further Resources 215

Acknowledgments 219

Notes 225

Index 251

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