Now seems a good time to gently remind people that presence can be a refuge and resource. On paper, it may not seem like much. The Oxford dictionary defines presence as “the state or fact of existing, occurring or being present.” This seems so rudimentary, just bare existence, as if you are showing up at an early morning classes and you are 18-years-old.
There you are, more or less upright in your seat, but aching and tired, possibly a little hung over or anxious or depressed. You are young and a night owl by nature, and prone to extremes. Being present mostly brings an uncomfortable awareness of the gulf between your state and the vast humanity of Shakespeare or Buddha or whomever is under discussion. You may vow to improve, to do the reading or meditate or get more sleep. You sense miserably that you have a great deal of work to do.
The Latin root, praesentia,means “being at hand.” You can do this, you think. But you want to do so much more. And by you, of course, I mean me. Over the years, improvements did happen: no more smoking, fewer hangovers and harsh words, more equanimity and honesty. Was it growing older or conscious growth? It was both. And yet slowly in the midst of all the changes, another shift of understanding and view took place.
The understanding of practice shifted from being a means of self-perfection to a way of seeing the imperfection—a way of seeing myself in context. Presence became vibrant and open. It became something more than a healing pause, more than the calm after tears, a glimpse of sky behind the clouds of thought. I began to see that being present is the way to have a real relationship with life.
“I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days,” wrote the Persian poet Hafiz. Presence is the wordless answer to our deepest questions. Even if we just sit still for three minutes, coming home to the body and the breath and our present moment experience, we let the great healing forces flow in.
At the moment, even if we choose not to follow the news, we are aware of struggle and unhappiness across the land. We may feel crazed and lonely and afraid that truth and justice are lost for good. This is the best possible time to be present in the most basic way.
“Power doesn’t always corrupt,” biographer Robert Caro once told The Guardian. “Power can cleanse. What I believe is always true about power is that power always reveals.”
Touching the earth of our present moment experience, we remember that we are not isolated but dwelling in relationship with life. We see that there are truths that can never be covered over. We know that life is flowing and that more will be revealed.