What is Presence?
Eckhart Tolle is a highly successful author. He has written many best sellers including The Power of Now. I have personally not read it, but I have read another one of his works; A New Earth. In the book he tells a story about a woman in her thirties that came to speak with him. She was carrying a ‘heavy backpack’ with much anger and sadness from traumatizing life events. He explains that her life had become how she saw it, through a filter of self-pity. She had come to the conclusion that her unhappiness originated in herself and she had now had enough.
He directed her attention to what she was feeling rather than pushing it away and resenting it. Reluctantly she did what he asked and tears were pouring down her eyes, her body was shaking. He said “At this moment, this is what you feel. There is nothing you can do about the fact that at this moment this is what you feel. Now, instead of wanting this moment to be different from the way it is, which adds more pain to the pain that is already there, is it possible for you to accept that this is what you feel right now?”
Angrily and impatient she said “No! I don’t want to accept this!”
He asked “Who is speaking? You, or the unhappiness in you? Can you see that your unhappiness about being unhappy is just another layer of unhappiness? I am not asking you to do anything. All I’m asking is that you find out whether it is possible for you to allow those feelings to be there. In other words, and this may sound strange, if you don’t mind being unhappy, what happens to the unhappiness? Don’t you want to find out?”
He writes that the woman looked puzzled, and after a minute or so of sitting silently, Eckhart noticed a significant shift in her energy field. She said, “This is weird. I’m still unhappy, but now there is space around it. It seems to matter less.”
Eckhart says that that space comes when there is inner acceptance of whatever you are experiencing in the present moment. That the moment the woman stopped identifying with the feeling, the old painful emotion that lived in her, the moment she put her attention on it directly without trying to resist it, it could no longer control her thinking and so become mixed up with a mentally constructed “The Unhappy Me”. Another dimension had come into her life that transcended her personal past – the dimension of Presence.
So how do we activate the dimension of presence in our own lives?
I’ve learned through reading this book that there are many aspects that needs to come in play for it to be possible, but one can start by simply breathing and noticing the breathe, almost like meditation. One complete, conscious breathe is enough! It becomes a practice, essentially, something one is either experienced in or not, like most other things in Life.
As I read the book I find it challenging to set out on a journey of activating presence in my every day life. There are so many thoughts that pass, uncontrollably (I don’t take medicine for it for those who wonder). Remembering to focus on what is happening right now is just another task I need to remember to act on.
So I’ve taken my breathe as an easy go-to activity. Every time I remember to, I take a conscious and deep breathe. Very often, before I’m done taking that one, conscious breathe, I’m already onto the next task, the next thing I need to do.
A 1000 mile walk starts with a single breathe
So I understood that I had to find a way. There’s almost no other thing on Earth I want more as the skill of being present. Imagine the Life I would live if I could constantly live in this very second, in the only moment that life happens, without ever thinking about past or future, just like Eckhart!
It’s going to be time consuming, meaning I won’t achieve it tomorrow, next month and not even in a year. I can’t burden myself with rushing to become more present, that would just be stupidly counter intuitive. I’m giving myself time and room to find peace with the noisy march of repetitive thoughts.
I want peace of mind, more frequent moments of silence and stillness in the brain. Only channeling my attention to what is happening right now!
Check back with me in 10 years, I might have accomplished it by then.