I’m Here; Therefore I Am Present

So in one week I will be on my way to Algonquin Park, a huge provincial park in mid Ontario.  My oldest son and I go for a week around this time and we canoe for a good part of the day, portage about 3 Km and there we are, on a lake with only 4 campsites, crystal clear water, and quiet you can hear.

And for years now I’ve been waiting to feel this ‘presence’ stuff that seems to get talked about so much.  I’m quite sure it’s supposed to wash over me in a quiet morning as the mist rises from the lake.  Or perhaps it will surround me as my paddle drips silently on the sparkling water, or as I look up into the darkness at millions of stars.

Nope, it hasn’t found me yet, nor me it….

As the years passed I was beginning to think maybe something was wrong with me.  Heck, I’d read a whole bunch about this mystical thing called presence and I figured I must be presence handicapped or something.  Then, a couple of years ago as I sat on the edge of the lake on a very hard rock on one of those mornings you see in pictures, I choose to forget about all that junk I’d read about presence and just sit there.  After a while my butt got sore so I got up, made some tea, found some wood for a fire that night, went for a swim and a paddle with my son, ate some good dried food, did some fishing and had a very nice day.

I was there and I was present.  No magic, no mysticism, no looking for something or waiting for something.

Half the stuff that people go on about regarding presence is nothing more than good manners, such as really listening to someone.  Then you cross that line and you find all the weird stuff about heightened awareness, deeper levels, feeling connected to it all, peace, love and meaning…..  And if we’re good we’re supposed to be in this state all the time! No wonder we feel presence handicapped!

Why do we go to so much effort to make presence so hard?  Well, you can sell a lot of books by making it hard and having the answer which makes it easy.  But more importantly we make it so hard by keeping it in our heads.  Presence is not a head thing, it’s a body thing.  It’s your body interacting with its environment.  It happens all the time and as such it’s a process, not a thing.  It’s a physical expression of your emerging identity. 

So if you really do feel a need to be more present, first practice good manners.  Then take your physical experience, in the present, seriously.  You don’t have to find some altered state, or be more aware of everything, just take your physical experience seriously and allow the process of presence to emerge along with everything else that is going on.  And if someday you have an experience of heightened awareness and feel connected to it all let that be a wonderful experience and don’t get it mixed up with presence.

In his book Looking for Spinoza neurologist and brain researcher Antonio Damasio makes a very strong case for the body preceding the brain in perception of our environment.  While both are inseparably linked, his work supports the physical, interactive nature of our experience and that of presence.

So you’ve just spent some time reading this blog entry. You were here so you were present. What was your physical experience?

Author – Tom

5 Comments

  1. Reply

    Amazing article! I was right there with you on that rock, paddling that canoe. A great simple take on something that IS always regarded as an altered state that only the special people can achieve.

  2. Reply

    Great story and good point. Another take on this is that we, as a society, have become so future-oriented that we forget what it means to be present. For example people texting and checking emails when they are supposed to be contributing in meetings now.

  3. Reply

    Thanks for the comments! In case anyone is interested I journal when I’m on trips like this so below is part of the entry from a couple of years ago that eventually informed this blog entry. Where there is a bracket is just a little explanation… thanks for indulging me…!

    Today I would say I moved with presence. I can still feel the pull of wanting to be somewhere else. Like making sure we get to Matawacka (a lake we were portaging to) fast enough to get on our way back to our site not too late. Like finishing lunch fast enough to get on our way back in case it rains… Even with those pulls I was present today; in my own way, which includes those pulls. I imagine many people would say you can’t really be present with those pulls but why not? It’s my presence, not theirs, or their idea of what it should be. I felt the sun on my back and the dip in temperature as it slid behind a cloud. I saw the sparkles on the water. Squirted honey on my tongue just because. I took a stone from the edge of our lunch site on Matawacka and dropped it in the middle of 3 tiny islands as a ritual for dying Humphrey, (my colleagues’ cat) the islands standing for him, Kathi and Craig. I imagined friends here with me. I wondered what the rest of our family was doing. I peed in every throne we stopped at. Yes, I was present today… and tonight I will be present to this night, to my sleep and the language of the dark that will speak to me… and yes, I know…

  4. Reply

    Hi Tom,

    A refreshing perspective.

    I was at an event a couple of weeks back when a similar discussion arose around the notion of “being ourselves”. All of the examples that people gave of times when they were “being themselves” reflected experiences when they reported feeling “at their best”, “in flow”, “at their peak”, “fully present” and so on. I broke the spell somewhat by suggesting that I could never be in any state other than one of “being myself” – even if I was doing things that I didn’t like, wasn’t doing well, or wasn’t proud of. If I was putting on an act, it was still me who was doing it!

    To paraphrase your headline, “It’s me. so I’m being myself”!

    Cheers, Chris

  5. Reply

    Tom, I think this is one of my all-time favourite posts. I am currently training for a 1/2 marathon and I am realizing how much “presence” goes missing when there is a race to train for. No longer are we just out there running in our beautiful environment, but we are putting in the kilometers – 5 more to go, 2 more to go, done – next week add 2 more! And, I listened to the conversations on Saturday and they were not about this race but about the next one to register for. Presence gets so lost in all of that and it is quite sad. It truly makes you wonder about the point of the running. I think I should make it part of my running day to read your post each time I go out to remember to take in what is around me! Thanks for your insight!

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