Be present as fully as possible. Be here with your doubts, fears and failings as well as your convictions, joys and successes, your listening as well as your speaking.
At first glance, this touchstone seems breathtakingly simple. Not easy, but simple. Yet when I stay with the invitation to be fully present, I am aware of the layers of protection I wear every day, and the ancestors who journey with me.
I wish I could say unequivocally that we are all born with the innate capacity to be fully present. What I know about epigenetics and multigenerational trauma is that while that innate capacity does reside within each of us, our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and ancestors also inhabit our bodies and our consciousness. Archetypes, cultural history, power and privilege also reside in us. To be present as fully as possible includes all of these joys, sorrows and complexities.
Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen has reminded me of the power of being fully present with our wounding in order to be a vessel for healing:
“Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to to find other people or to even know they’re alone with an illness. I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of. ”
As a Jew, my relationship to being present is imbued with the complexity of centuries of persecution, and the seduction of assimilation. If I am fully present, will I be in danger? And if I am not fully present, am I wrapping myself in a protective cloak of delusion?
Creating an environment of safety is not a single act; rather, it is an ongoing process in each moment. How much do I reveal and what do I hold back? This touchstone is about letting go of the people pleaser in me, the ego, the impulse to look good or sound like you’ve got it all figured out. Being present means risking vulnerability and visibly living into the not knowing.
Presence for me is an ongoing process of healing that is supported by a daily practice of conscious attunement. This daily practice includes attending to moments when I disappear, dissolve, and slide out of presence, which can happen pretty quickly. One minute I’m listening with my whole self, and with the next breath I may have slid my hand into my pocket, felt the key to my gym locker that I should have left at home, and then my brain has hijacked my presence completely. I take another breath and begin again.
The touchstone of being fully present dovetails beautifully with the touchstone of silence. Silence offers me generous patience and spaciousness, and allows me to be more fully present. No urgency or expectation. Learning to be silent with myself, inside myself, quieting myself, allows me to be more fully present.
What is my internal experience of presence?
With my breath, I attune to these intentions, inner sensations and stirrings, along with a felt sense in my body.
One of my favorite readings about presence is actually a children’s book by Rana DiOrio called What Does It Mean To Be Present? This beautiful, 32-page colorful book distills the gifts of presence down so gracefully that a 4-year-old reader will resonate with its simplicity:
“allowing the rhythm of your breath…
in and out, in and out…
to make you feel peaceful.
…closing your eyes and being
still enough to hear your inner voice.”
The simplicity of this children’s book, and its artistic beauty, have served well as a visual resource for this touchstone about being present. I have brought it with me to retreats and shared it with others many times.
Being present is not only a sacred practice; it is also in the service of the healing and repair of our world. To be fully present is radical, risky, and dangerous. When I claim presence as a subversive act of civil disobedience, it ignites the holy spark within me and allows me to shed some of that daily and multigenerational armor. Presence is a generous gift to self, other and community.
Karen Erlichman, a Courage & Renewal Facilitator, provides psychotherapy, spiritual direction, supervision and mentoring out of her private practice in San Francisco. Karen is co-director of Practistry, and an adjunct faculty member at the Starr King School for the Ministry and the Chaplaincy Institute for Arts and Interfaith Ministries. http://www.karenerlichman.com