by Kim Saffran

I learned about presence many years ago and the event is crystal clear. Ultimately, the issue was one of control. I’d like to say it was with me, thinking clearly and decisively, but it was physiology that grabbed the reins, exacting its authority; dominating what was to be the first event in a series of many. It was a panic attack — and the reason was simple.

I was under the control of a mind/body reaction and not yet educated enough to understand that the very things we think, manifest in the body’s response. Furthermore, if we are not paying careful attention, the reaction quickly takes hold, landing us in places — most likely more frightening than the original thoughts. For someone who did not have the presence of mind to fully appreciate the power of where those thoughts would lead, I fell victim to them easily. 

Like legions of others, getting caught up in the minutiae of life seemed natural considering the pace and all of its demands. However, after many such episodes of the “thought rush” without any clear method for tempering the noise, I knew that eventually I would be dropped squarely in a statistic column of what happens when we succumb to the busyness of our minds. 

Coping in a more positive manner was crucial. Plus, I knew that I owed more to the unwavering, selfless and loving support of friends who were traveling this exhausting road with me. I could lean, yes, but only so much. I had to find my way out of the spiral.

What I was hoping was that my steady yoga practice would provide enough calm to outlast the daily practice itself.  Easing into relaxing asanas (poses and postures in yoga) and concluding with shavasana (a final restorative pose in yoga), while restful and beneficial, couldn’t tame the ferocity of my thoughts when they came rushing back. This is when I took control.          

My meditation practice was one that instantly felt “right.” My guess is that there must have been different systems at work, acting cooperatively, that permitted a type of flow between what was “busy” in my mind and what was a small residual effect of my yoga practice. Meditation felt more comforting than a distraction and I found it settling to know that this was a new pathway toward healing. I felt present and I felt hopeful.  But, it would take time and a commitment to be open to the thoughts when they came. I needn’t be afraid, as I had learned. I simply needed to be “Present.”

Luckily, we needn’t experience a debilitating (and frightening) event in order to discover our propensity for balance and equanimity. I believe it is ever-present in those who seek to counter the effects of daily life, complete with all its challenges. To do this, many of us look for outlets in which to express ourselves, to go in search of connection to things and others outside of ourselves, perhaps, embracing a more metaphysical existence.

Whichever it is, our desire to calm the unsteady waters of our lives is something that demands our time, attention and dedication. And, thankfully, we have an ability to delve a bit deeper into the things that we seek out — adding a layer of deeper connection. 

For me, it’s nature. I’ve witnessed absolutely breathtaking parts of our country, stunning and sweeping panoramic views of historical shifts in landscapes due to climate and time. I’ve kicked off my hiking boots — plunging my overworked feet into running streams that have rejuvenated and soothed me and in the fall, my absolute favorite time of the year. I have felt the crisp, coolness in the air envelope me — bringing a smile to my face that only this lovely season could.  The color is another story altogether. 

But, here’s the thing: As incredible as these experiences are, the added layer of deeper connection is a result of being Present. To be still, quiet and to appreciate not only the experience of “doing,” but the experience of feeling.”

We are doers by nature. We are wired to produce and to feel accomplished. We rack up experiences and, most times, if we are not paying close attention, we may find ourselves auto-piloting our way through the days — checking things off our task list as we “do” life. Somewhere along the way, that doing seems to have gotten in the way of our being.  This is where Presence comes into play. By paying careful attention to our experience and offering them the space to do so, our senses can illustrate a fresher perspective in a story that may seem familiar but which has the potential for an alternate ending. 

We have the ability to help rewrite our stories, adding greater depth to our experiences, positioning ourselves to better understand and acknowledge our thoughts and even undertake a greater role in helping to temper our anxieties, should they present. If not, what we have cultivated is a greater appreciation for what life is showing us.

So, as a matter of practice, the next time you are doing, take some time to think about what is happening around you. Allow the senses to play a heightened role in the experience. What are you seeing? Hearing? How does your environment feel to your body? Your mind? Are you relaxed? Anxious? If so, giving greater attention to the reasons why may provide the potential for addressing them in a manner that can produce calm.

Presence is paying attention. It affords us the opportunity to respond to our lives rather than react to them. It is thoughtful, deliberate and helpful. It is colorful and can help to expand our existence, granting us greater sway over the direction of our experience. In a world where the busyness of our lives dictates our pace, the practice of Presence helps us to slow down, close our eyes at times and listen to the messages that life is telling us. They say, there is more to feel. Embrace this. This is life.        

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