Presence has been swirling around me, chasing me in the fall wind, working its way through my hair. I taste it in time with friends, in singing in a choir, and in the longing to run away from what is hard. We have all been surviving for so long. And there are new hills to climb as we rise out of the critical and isolating phases of a pandemic to enter into reimagining and rebuilding.
On the other side of grief, of leaving the broken, of destruction is recovering, healing, and growing something new. And one of the practices that carries through both seasons is presence. Just plain showing up for what is and who I am today is both difficult and courageous.
In the hardest seasons of my life, I had to learn to show up for my difficult emotions. I had learned to repress anger, rationalize fear, repel sadness. But there was no way out but through. I learned to name what I was feeling, talk it through with therapists, family, and friend. I practiced showing up to let others carry me, especially when that was uncomfortable, undesirable, and hard.
Things are so much better now than they were on those worst days. Still, life brings unexpected cold fronts and exciting, if overwhelming opportunities to grow. Presence means showing up for this too. It is almost harder to be fully present to joy and laughter. To seize the moment for play and relaxation. To set down whatever preoccupies me and really be here in my life.
We live in a world that offers us distraction, escape, and avoidance in every imaginable form: smart phones, food, exercise, books, tv, work, hobbies, stuff. The challenge is to use these things to find and live life rather than avoid it.
I move so quickly between seeing the world for what it is and being totally lost in my own head. This week, I found myself in awe of the fall colours so many times, drawn into the miracle of the people I love, captivated by how good potatoes can be. And in the next moments, I have been completely at a loss for how to move forward through a complex situation, completely annoyed by someone else’s actions, and feeling desperate and afraid. I know what I need to do and how important it is to be gentle and kind to myself and still I struggle with both.
When I find myself pulled in many directions, lost everywhere but here, I find it helpful to sink deeply into three movements:
- Breathe and notice. Feel the air go into my lungs, and push it back out. See the details of my surroundings. Look at the people. Drink in colour, smells, sounds. I am here, right now.
- Feel. Look for and name any emotions that are present. Pay attention to where they sit in your body, whether they are heavy or light, pleasant or irritating, inviting or demanding. Express them however it is possible and safe to do so. And then, let them go.
- Ask. What is the next loving thing you can do to be fully here right now? Don’t overthink it – see a way forward in this moment and live into it with courage. Cry, create, connect – there isn’t a road map. Trust yourself. You won’t always know if it is the right thing. That’s okay. When you see another way, you can choose again if you need to.
Called back to myself, I often remember my grandpa, whistling in the far yard while he worked or sitting in his wheelchair in old age waiting for a cribbage game when we came to visit. He taught me to watch birds outside the window and cheer at a ball game. The things that mean the world are often surprisingly simple. Call or text the person. Listen with empathy. Say how you feel. Set the boundary with love. Act with kindness.
Our world needs us here. Present and showing up with courage, for ourselves and each other. Whether you are wading through loss and heartache or rising into a new thing, your presence draws in the Breath that is life. May it being you back to yourself so that you can be yourself for the world.