Welcome to 2016, my friends, welcome!
In this installment of my Gifts of Practice series, I offer some words about Presence. Presence is the quality of being awake to each moment, aware of our essence, and feeling unerringly connected to Source.
What is Presence?
Presence is a characteristic, but more deeply, it is a quality of being. It is a way of existing in the world. It doesn’t mean being focused or on high alert each moment. On the contrary, it’s more like the experience of having “soft eyes,” the gaze that allows you to be more aware of your periphery, gives your mind the cue to be meditative, and is sometimes called “Buddha gaze.”
Focused clarity—the opposite kind of look from the Buddha gaze—can give us good information. Bringing our brain’s power to bear on a given problem is useful. It can solve the problem. It can work out a solution. It can plan for the future.
Presence, though, allows us to be fully here. It gives us the chance to live more fully and deeply. To feel. To know. To will. To dare. And to speak or keep silent, in a formulation some of my witchy friends will recognize. It is Presence that keeps us grounded in now, and now is where our power is.
What does this have to do with spiritual practice?
Spiritual practice, more than any intentional, willful, psychologically muscular action I know, makes me Present. Present to what is happening around me because I am present to what is within me. Present, able to be discerning and choiceful, able to be gently disciplined, able to be attentive to things we have missed in the past.
Meditation, in particular, enhances Presence. In meditation, as we return again and again to our breath, bead, mantra, or prayer, we develop skill. The skill, often called mindfulness, is a subset of Presence. Repetitive physical activity, like, for example, swimming, can also help us be more present. Moving through the water, breathing rhythmically and deeply, moving arms and legs in a rhythm that your mind can become lost in…all of these work together to unbend the mind, as my father used to say.
Journaling brings Presence in another way, especially when the writing is combined with other activities. Journaling as a contemplative activity, not simply creating a diary of the day’s events (though that is valuable for other reasons), allows reflection to change our hearts and minds. Over time, as we learn about ourselves from the pen moving across the page, we become more able to be deliberate, discerning, and dedicated to living our lives.
Music, like exercise, engages our minds in many different ways. Chanting, drumming, or singing songs we know well is like praying on beads, only richer. We become invisible to ourselves. We become one with the Flow of the River of creativity. We become simple channels of beauty, creativity, and originality. As Julia Cameron reminds me, there is no need for any artist—by which she means any of us—to worry about being “original.” If whatever we are bringing forth comes from our core, from our insides, it is origin-al. It origin-ates with us in our deep places. And engaging the River, touching the Source by dipping into wells we have dug through practice, that is touching God Herself.
Cells in the Body of God Herself
Presence is that touch. Presence is knowing in our beings that we are not and have never been separate from the Sea of the Universe. And as a result, Presence is the core, the root of many other virtues.
It allows us to be more fully and strongly compassionate. That is, to take in the reality of others’ suffering without fearing that we will grasp onto it, romance it, and make it our own special pain.
It allows us to be present to our own feelings and recognize those feelings as being like weather or clouds; that is to say, feelings shape and form and change and dissipate.
Presence allows us to make commitments again and again, attending to where we are in the moment, knowing where we’ve come from, but not being attached to stories from the past, other people’s opinions or judgments, or anxieties about the future.
Presence is to be here, to be now.
The moments I have been fully Present in this life have sparkled with vitality. I have seen the souls of people—glowing, fiery cores of glory. I have known my own divinity. The world has shown itself shot through with the splendor of God Herself.
Growing Our Souls
I am excited to share practices that have helped me and limitless others touch and even swim the Great River. It is the River that leads to the shining beaches of the Goddess’ love and the Sea of Her embrace, as Tracy and David Grammer once wrote.
In Growing Our Souls, starting on Tuesday of this week (two and a half days!), the participants and I will work together in meditation, art, prayer, music, and reflection to touch the River and draw nourishment from it. Not only will we dedicate ourselves to learning, but more importantly, we will support one another in our practice. In an online format, through Zoom video/phone conferencing, we will ask and discuss questions, express frustration, and celebrate times that feel good.
Everyone who signs up, no matter how many of the meetings they are able to make (all, some, none!), will receive recordings of each meeting. So even if you cannot make all the video meetings, I encourage you to sign up and receive the support that is available to you. And please do let me know if you have questions, concerns, or want to share anything else. Just scoot on over to the Contact page and send me a note!
We may not see the glory of one another’s souls this month together. Or maybe we will.
Please consider joining us this Tuesday. The link to register and read more about the month-long support is here. I hope to see you!