This was a piece of advice I was given during a difficult period of time I had this summer. I was tense and stressed and not having a good time. I was barely smiling, my mind was occupied, and I was hardly making any new friends. I was so wrapped up in myself: my ideas, my plans, my mistakes, and my solutions that it got to the point where I was called aside for a chat.

“Be more present,” she said to a sniffling and teary-eyed me. “Don’t think too much, don’t worry about what has already happened. Just focus on what’s happening NOW.”

This piece of advice stuck with me the whole summer. I used to think that I was pretty good at being present and being in the moment. But once I started making a more conscious effort, I realized that being present requires deliberation and dedication. And most of the time, we take it for granted.

I will be the first to admit that I am not always exactly “in the moment.” There are times when I am perfectly comfortable in my own head, happily shutting out the rest of the world. But sometimes, the Universe steps in and says, “Hey. Uhm, I think that’s enough.” Those are the moments when you suddenly look up from your problems and your daydreams and realize, “Huh. So this is where I am right now. Cool.” In my case, the Universe stepped in by busting up my earphones.

It was going to be a three-hour drive. I was looking forward to immersing myself in my favorite music and looking out the window as the world outside drifted by. It was going to be intimate, tranquil, and awesome. Until, of course, my earphones refused to cooperate. One earbud was not working. I sighed, tucked my daydreams away for another day, and looked around me to see what was going on. My cousins were messing around with my brother, my parents were chatting with my tito and tita in the front seats, snacks were being passed around, and classic OPM was blasting out the speakers. Nonsense jokes were hits, randomly bursting into song was expected, and I almost missed out on all of this because I wanted to listen to music that I listen to all the time at home anyway. Bathroom breaks and snack runs caused us to be on the road longer than we should’ve been, but so what? We were all together and that’s all that mattered. It was a summer highlight.

But sometimes, the Universe can go all out. It can decide, “You know what? You’ve been spending too much time stuck with yourself. Here’s a week of no Internet, no Wifi, minimal contact with the outside world…in fact, let’s just take away all cellphones and miscellaneous gadgets altogether. Let’s put you in a location two to three hours away from your family and the rest of society, too. You’ll thank me later.” Enter: summer camp 2019.

To be perfectly clear, though, my friends and I were in no way forced to attend this summer camp. We’d been looking forward to this for a whole year. We WERE forced, however, to surrender our cellphones and gadgets on Day 1 in order to be really immersed in the experience. It was intense. I remember thinking, “So THIS is what going ‘cold turkey’ feels like.” By day 3, the outside world was a myth. We could hardly remember a time before camp. Family and friends in the outside world were distant memories. It was us, our cabin mates, our counselors, and fellow campers from now on. That was it, that was life as we knew it.

Were we present and in the moment? Absolutely. It was impossible not to be. And it was amazing. Every moment was a learning experience, every conversation strengthened relationships, and every person was a potential friend. We appreciated nature. We reflected. We bonded. People had time to talk with friends both old and new, face to face. The days were full to the brim with new activities and experiences. By the time camp ended and it was time to go home, we were exhausted. It was a long week, full of ups and downs, but it was worth it. It was weird finally unlocking my phone again for the first time. I stared at the screen and thought, “Do I really need this?”

Going through all this, though, made me ask myself, “Do I really have to force myself in order to be truly in the moment? Does the Universe always have to intervene?” And this time, the universe didn’t have to answer my question for me. I was the one who turned to the Universe and said, “Don’t worry. I got this.”

It’s the middle of the night and we’re still at our friends’ house, having no plans of going home anytime soon. I haven’t checked my phone in hours. (Okay, I didn’t have the WiFi password, but I promise I wouldn’t have used my phone anyway.) Then there’s the sleepover with my cousins. Secrets and dreams were laid out on the table and “tomorrow” didn’t exist. Then I was reuniting with some of my favorite people and they were the most important beings in my life at that moment. On the flip side, there were times we just basked in comfortable silence, having nothing to say. And it was okay. All of my favorite memories just happen to be moments where I am truly one hundred percent present. Coincidence? I think not.

Being present shouldn’t be a challenge or a chore. It should be as natural as reaching for your phone to take a photo, but deciding against it to savor the moment instead. We live in a society where it’s not so easy to live in the moment, to not bring along worries and unfinished business wherever we go. But, like a wise man once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If we don’t stop and look around once in a while, we could miss it.” And life has too much in store for us to miss anything. “Be more present.”

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