Presence

Ah, the second half of life. It’s a curious phase, one where you start realizing that you’re the next in line — not just at the grocery store check out, but in the grand scheme of existence. For me, this awareness hit hard when both my parents passed away. It’s less about being 51 and more about recognizing that I’m now actively crafting the legacy I’ll leave behind for my son, family, friends, community, and Earth.

A Breathless Beginning

 If I were to title the first half of my life, it would be “Out of Breath.” I suffered from debilitating allergies well into my 40s. It felt like I was perpetually breathing through a straw — always gasping and grasping for air.

This breathless start turned me into a relentless seeker. I needed tools to breathe better, though I didn’t know what they were. I was like a novice in a workshop, picking up random tools — will this wrench work? How about this hammer? This saw?

I discovered that seeking was a struggle I thrived in. I enjoyed metabolizing experiences: What nutrients can I pull from this moment? What can I compost?

Now, in my second half of life, Inquiry has become my habit. It’s optimized my well-being in countless ways — from breathing more deeply and having more energy to disrupting inner arguments and breaking free from the tyranny of the mind. At the heart of this transformation is presence — the practice of being fully engaged in the moment.

In this reflection, I share:

  • How I find more joy and less suffering in the everyday moments of life.
  • A recent experience that helped me benchmark how far I’ve come in handling strife.
  • A protocol I use to interrupt rumination and mental chatter.
  • Our power to shift what we’ve inherited and pass on something better.

Make a cup of tea, sit back, and dive in. Then let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear what this reflection sparks for you.

Maximizing the Mundane

One negative consequence of being out of breath in my younger years was its impact on my ability to be present. As my system struggled for oxygen, I was continually in a sympathetic nervous system state without realizing it. Exhaustion made me vulnerable to the tyranny of the mind.

Most of my time was spent futurizing and catastrophizing, lost in intense inner dialogues that seemed more real than the external world. I was having arguments with people who weren’t there, ruminating on the past, and worrying about the future, but never truly being present.

Our culture often seeks presence through “flow state” and peak experiences — deep creative work, mountain biking, or skiing. While I enjoy these thrills, I find that peak performance and productivity are just small slivers of life. The bulk of our hours are spent in the domestic sphere.

So, the question I engage with is, “How do we maximize the mundane?”

I aim to be aware of how I spend most of my time and design around that reality. We spend a lot of time in the kitchen, bathroom, or at our desks. For me, it’s crucial to have practices that bring presence into these small moments. Getting up from my desk to sit in the sunshine, especially when I get “email apnea,” is one such practice.

Presence alone isn’t enough to maximize the mundane. If I’m hyper-aware of discomfort or nagging thoughts, it’s pretty unpleasant. Like hearing an obnoxious song on the radio at full volume, we “tune out” to avoid the sensation. Suffering — whether physical, mental, or emotional — often drives us out of the present. It’s the feeling of, “Anywhere but here!”

The other piece of the puzzle is adjusting what I’m experiencing, like tuning a dial to find a pleasant station. This combo of presence and making adjustments is what I call attunement.

Attunement involves checking in with myself in real time and making micro-adjustments to ride the wave of reality rather than avoid it. My goal is to continually adjust my inner dial, creating a harmonious frequency internally and externally. That’s when life feels satisfying, regardless of how mundane the task is.

One of my go-to practices for real-time attunement is placing my hands on my body to bring awareness back to my breath. Placing one hand on my chest and one on my abdomen attunes me to my inhales and exhales, allowing me to adjust the dial using various breathwork practices I’ve collected over the years.

These attunement practices keep me present and enjoying life, even in mundane moments. They also act as first aid in triggering situations, as I was recently reminded.

Going Postal

A few weeks ago, my wife and I needed to renew our son’s passport. I wasn’t looking forward to the task, but I had cleared my schedule, we had an appointment, and I was ready to make the best of it.

Upon arriving at the post office, we realized we didn’t have the old passport. While my wife and son went back for it, I stood in line. I knew exactly what “Past Me” would’ve done: had an internal argument, blaming, and playing the victim.

Tuning into my body, I felt the tell-tale signs of being triggered: elevated temperature and an increasing heart rate. Observing this gave me the opportunity to adjust my dial. I used meditation to sync my breath and heart rate, creating cardiovascular resonance.

It’s simple:

  • Inhale for five seconds.
  • Pause at the top of the breath.
  • Exhale for five seconds.
  • Pause at the bottom of the breath. 

This syncs the heart with the lungs, reducing the heart’s workload while providing more oxygen. By the time I reached the front of the line, I was back in my parasympathetic nervous system. When told we’d need to reschedule our appointment, I simply listened. When my wife and son returned, old passports in hand, and we were told it was too late, I didn’t argue.

Reflecting on this experience, I saw how I used multiple protocols:

  • Attunement to notice my physiological response.
  • Cardiovascular resonance to douse my sympathetic response.
  • Nonviolent communication to step back and listen.

In the Lifestyle Lab, we discuss “stacking” protocols to accelerate lifestyle design. This experience exemplified that. By stacking practices, they work in synchronicity, creating an upward cascade of positive results.

I feel proud of this snapshot of “Second-Half-of-Life Me.” I’m not perfect, nor a blissed-out Zen master, but it’s rewarding to see my progress and how my practices have given me more choice in how I show up in the world.

Who’s Talking? 

Presence is the ultimate defense against the tyranny of the mind. When embodied, I can’t catastrophize the future or regret the past. Disconnected from my body, the internal conversations take on a life of their own.

Most people see me as laid-back, but in my first half of life, I was constantly embroiled in inner arguments. Mental discord felt louder than reality.

Breathwork and embodiment practices allowed me to step away from ongoing arguments in my mind. With this space, I could ask a crucial question: “Who’s talking?”

In moments of frustration, I became curious. Whose voice was I hearing? My mother’s? My father’s? My high school baseball coach’s? This question interrupted the momentum, allowing me to make different choices and identify historical patterns. I realized much of what I carried wasn’t mine.

Creating suffering by carrying past generations’ baggage contrasts with creating a rich legacy of well-being by becoming aware and choosing not to bring it forward.

For deeper insights, I recommend Who Dies? by Stephen Levine and the work of Kenneth Burke. These explorations of identity and body have inspired my journey.

New Patterns

Family Constellation work suggests that family patterns continue until someone decides to break them. We carry baggage until we choose to set it down.

I’ve become aware of familial patterns in my life. For example, my grandfather faced food scarcity, leading to a family pattern of overeating. Though I have plenty, I must actively work to stop overeating when satiated.

Fun fact: The first burp signals your stomach is at capacity. If I stop eating after the first burp, I feel better. This helps guide me in breaking generational patterns.

In my second half of life, I think about what baggage I don’t want to carry forward. What patterns do I want to break? How do I want my son to remember me?

I hope to be remembered for moments of presence. Eulogies and obituaries often highlight activities that brought people to life — moments of presence.

I hope my son sees the value of seeking presence through discovery and self-inquiry. I want all those I encounter to feel my presence, knowing I sought to integrate wisdom, well-being, and wealth.

May we all value presence as much as material or financial legacy, passing on moments of presence and self-inquiry to future generations.

As we journey through the second half of life, let’s embrace the power of presence. By tuning in and making mindful adjustments, we can transform our experiences, whether in everyday tasks or challenging situations. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this reflection. What does it spark for you?

In curiosity and camaraderie,

Gino

Founder | Curator of Poetry of Impact