Think back to elementary school. My guess is (depending on your generation), when the teacher called roll most students responded by saying, “Here!” And usually, especially by 5th grade or so, one wise guy (were there gunners in elementary school?!) would respond by answering, “Present!” The other kids would snicker and the teacher might look up with that slightly annoyed look. But, you know what? That kid was onto something, as an email I received recently reminded me.
A group I belong to has been trying to arrange a telephone meeting, and one colleague recently responded to a tentative date by saying, “I’ll be there, and I’ll do my best to be present.” Present implies being focused on matters at hand, not distracted by what went on before the meeting began or what’s coming up next, not thinking about what’s for dinner or how to get in the CLE before the deadline, or any of the myriad of things that may zip through at any given moment. It’s paying attention, being dialed in to what’s really happening at both the surface and underlying levels.
“Present” versus “Here” is the point of meditation and centering practices, at least to this beginner. It’s choosing to focus the mind on one thing, whether that’s breath or a word or phrase, and choosing gently to push away other thoughts that intrude. And those practices train the mind to remain present at other times.
Now, imagine a large-scale negotiation, case status meeting, or the like. A big conference table with lots of lawyers seated around it, or (perhaps more challengingly) a telephone conference, with people dialing in from different offices arond the country or around the world. Imagine someone taking roll midway through the meeting. How can you ensure you’d respond with “Present”?