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