Playing with Presence
It’s the last day of October, in a year that’s going by way too fast for me. Outside my window, the steady silver rain I woke up to this morning has turned into a lingering drizzle and the hills of north Berkeley are covered in a ghostly mist – in tune with Halloween that’s being celebrated today. All week, fiery orange pumpkins have lined the front steps and windows of homes, smiling and grimacing in turn at passers by, kept company by hanging bats, ghouls and other creatures that go bump in the night. To me, they are such a festive presence in the day; at night, when they are lit up on the inside, that bright warm glow makes that presence somehow expand: they look bigger and meaner (as they’re supposed to) and then return to being benignly full and toothless in daylight. Watching this I’m finally compelled to write again, this time about a word that I’ve been puzzling over for a while.
For the past three months, I’ve been contemplating the word presence. Yes, it’s about being confident, compelling and clear… and yet, it’s so much more than that. Presence is a topic I’ve been immersed in so much this year in so many ways that for me, it has acquired a shape, a colour and a size depending on what I’m observing. Oh, and that keeps shifting too because presence, our living wholeness, that life force/spirit within us that makes us distinctly who we are, expands and contracts to meet the world around us. Pay attention to it and it will show up for you, sometimes fleeting, often lingering, perhaps big and bold, at times playful and centered, or quiet and deep. Presence is in the emotions that run through you, in the language you use to express yourself and in the way that you hold your body. The presence you have allows you to listen deeply, or not; connect, or not; be present, or not; be kind, compassionate and gentle, or not. It’s not a concept. It’s you. And being aware that you carry that light within you will allow you to choose to let it glow deeper or slowly let it go dim.
Playing with presence can be a practice. As you try the ones I’ve listed below, notice what happens around you, what you think and what you feel. As with any practice, none of these is cast in stone – you can make your own changes so that they allow you to work and learn more effectively, so that how you decide to show up is the presence that impacts your world. Here goes:
Pay attention to yourself in Nature. What do you notice about your surroundings? Make a list of your emotions and thoughts and notice what happens to your body. Stay curious about what it evokes for you and aim for depth and granularity in reporting your experience. For example, after years of busyness for me, I noticed after an initial pulling away (which was so hard to let go of), I began leaning into the silence and nourishment that being in nature gave me. The practice lets me hold a powerful listening space for a coaching client.
Recall an expanded presence you were in and recreate it for a few hours: Ask yourself when you noticed that – for instance, was it when you achieved something, were in the midst of close friends, playing a competitive sport? What emotions show up in the memory? Can you feel them in your body as you recall the event? Find a way to hold that for a while and notice the possibilities it opens up for you. How does that impact your language, your action and your emotions for the time you hold it? When would you choose to be this way? When I want to be playful, I remember what it’s like for me to be in the middle of my closest girlfriends – their presence always brings out a hugely effervescent side of me that’s not always available. To go back to it, just the memory can make my step in life lighter, even if it’s just for a day.
Sit in a contracted state for a while: Close up your body, find a quiet dark corner of a room and stay there for 30 minutes. What does that teach you? How do you feel in it? Is it a space that’s familiar or a place you want to run from? Notice the benefits it can provide (yes it can) and notice what you give up staying in it too long. Closing up my energy allows me to be less extended in the world and helps me to be aware of my own presence as opposed to others: my thoughts and feelings have clarity in those moments. It gives me the ability to think on my feet. Staying in it too long however can make me go too silent (as has happened for the past three months) and I often need a good shake to get out of it (literally).
Spend time with someone you admire for qualities that are opposite to yours: If you’re the quiet sort, anyone who’s brightly gregarious; if you’re the talkative, wildly gesturing, bracelet clanking type (okay, that’s me, sometimes), find a quiet soul to spend some time with. Notice what happens to you in the conversation – your sensations, emotions, thoughts, language and your shape. When you leave, breathe that out. What’s different now? As an almost empath, I often absorb another person’s energy and find I even begin to mirror it if I’m not careful about my boundaries. It takes a while to breathe that out, though the possibilities it opens up for me are during coaching, when I can work almost intuitively.
Spend some time with someone you don’t like very much: (It doesn’t have to be a lot, just a little works too.) Notice what begins to happen to your inner voice, the one that begins to slice and dice the other person in a continuous volley of (mostly ungrounded) assessments. Can you stop and notice what may have become a habit for you? What does that tell you about yourself and your ability to listen and connect to another? What do you notice in your body (sensations and feelings)? And watch out for the inner voice that turns on you when you try this out (judging you for judging others). I’ve learned it allows me to gain perspective and to widen that space to see the world from another’s eyes – noticing my own inner voice allows me to choose to listen to it or tell it politely to take a walk. That’s a practice in itself.
Choose a new body practice from the one you usually do: How does that shift your being? What shows up for you in it? If I move from going to the gym to a dance class, there’s suddenly a more self-conscious, contracted shape that’s full of assessments. Moving from the structure of a class to my own room to dance opens up a different shape, one more expanded that’s lighter and more joyful in the movement. You’ll notice what’s different as you pay close attention to the parts of you that make up your own living wholeness.
Part of playing with presence is that there are so many creative ways to open up your own possibilities. As I said earlier, it’s the way in which you meet your world and how you settle into a new way of being. As you unravel some parts of yourself, you’ll find something new. And isn’t that part of the journey?
Presence is not the destination, friend, it is the ground. ~ Jeff Foster