Falling in Love with Presence

Reflections on a Vocational Journey
January 1, 2014
It’s Alright to Feel Things
March 3, 2014

Lately my attention is on presence, sometimes known as being present. Presence–or lack of presence–has a huge impact on what is possible. But what is presence?

Presence as Practice

Presence can be a practice. You can attend to what your senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin) are telling you about yourself and the moment. The idea is to be vividly, neutrally aware.

For example, as I write this, I see the ink marks forming on the paper, I feel the contact where my hand pushes into the pen; I feel the pen press down across the paper.

You can sit in a sunlit patch of green somewhere and feel the sun’s warmth on your eyelids, hear a dog barking or children shouting nearby.

And we stop here. We do not need to comment on the sunlight; we do not need to “do anything” about the dog’s bark. We can simply practice a neutral “witness” state.

Presence as Substance

Presence is also a substance. A “something” that—strangely enough–has no purpose. Presence attends to what is unfolding, without motive. It does not try to color or influence anything.

Yet presence is extraordinarily powerful.

Lately presence and I have been courting one another. I, in fact, am falling in love with presence. But who is my mysterious suitor?

She’s hard to pin down. I cannot smell or see her. I cannot clasp her hands. Her personality is…..difficult to describe. But she is not boring. She makes each moment an adventure.

Mysterious Presence

Is presence a being? Maybe. Is presence a practice? A choice we make, again and again? Or is presence a something that descends to enfold us?

I’m not sure. But when you invite presence into your day, he accepts graciously. He whispers secrets into your ear.

Sitting quietly with presence, you notice things. You see intothings. It does not matter if what is in front of you is a human, a bumblebee, or your familiar habits.

Whatever is in front of you opens like a flower with infinite petals, revealing depth within depth, nuance upon nuance.

Presence unfolds with the moment. It does not turn what it perceives into a recipe or formula.

As for me, I could easily turn this essay into a “How To.” I could exit the flow and write about “How to Look More Deeply” or “Cultivating Presence for Self-Healing” (since it is my nature to do that sort of thing, I probably will do that—next time).

Meanwhile, presence flows on, rushes onward to meet the next moment, the next insight, living it fully, tasting it completely.

Practical Presence

I’ve noticed that whether I am writing like I am now, or sitting with a coaching client, I do my best work when I let the flow of presence carry me along. This rich place of listening (to myself, to my client, to the moment) allows the right words and solutions to find me.

When my client has a particular dilemma they wish to shift, I trust the richness of presence to hold us. I wait to receive something useful. It is as if I am resting on a riverbank, dangling my feet in the water. The current brings something to me. It might be a sensation, a helpful phrase, or an image. It is my job to turn this gift for my client into something they can use. A suggestion. A somatic practice. Now is the time to offer a recipe or formula.

Presence That Creates

When I am alone and writing, the river of presence brings a torrent of insights and ideas. Now is the time to choose specific words, and say something definite. To birth an opinion, a story, a poem or a teaching.

To me, this is what creativity is—transforming moments of living presence into matter. It’s like taking a photograph. Sculpting formlessness into form.

When I write, I say to myself, and to life, “I will write this; I will not write that.” “I choose to use this word, not that word.” “I want to develop this idea, not that one.”

Why do I do this? Because it’s fun. Because it’s what Creators do. It’s what creators do. We make choices. We co-create with the living moment.

When I am with a client, I say to myself, and to life: “This person I am serving has this goal; they want this outcome. What will help them get there?” “What words, which practices will support their desire?”

With that intention, I dip my hand into the river of presence, and draw out something useful. I offer it to the person I am with, as a suggestion, or as “homework.” I invite them to “try it on” and see if it fits.

“Homework” is presence solidified. A recipe. But here’s the paradox: the right recipe at the right time can restore someone’s relationship to the flow of presence.

Presence That Prays

In my best moments as writer or healer; as bird-mom or friend; I am able to stay connected to the flow of presence. I harvest its gifts for myself and others; I make choices and adjustments; always with my feet in the river. Before, during and after each action.

Before the word is chosen, before the suggestion is given, I am at ease in the river.

While writing, while suggesting, I rest in the shallows. While scratching the baby bird’s head, while I greet my friend, I rest.

After my feathered friend swoons into sleep, after my friend hangs up the phone, I sink back down–right up to my neck–into presence. 

When your feet are tired and sore, remember: the river of presence is waiting for you. 

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