Last Wednesday evening my daughter and I co-created one of those experiences I love most. We live far from each other, and both have busy lives, so often we keep in touch through short conversations, or WhatsAp chats. That night I had nothing on my schedule and when I reached out to connect with Rachael on FaceTime, I discovered her internet connection was down. So we went back to an ‘old’ technology I deeply appreciate – the phone.
What followed was one of those easy-flowing, wide-ranging, open-hearted, appreciation-filled conversations that I love. We were looking forward to having almost 48 hours of being in the same city celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend. In that conversation on Wednesday evening, one of the things I shared with her were some reflections on another extraordinary conversation I’d had earlier that day with Lyn Allen – a friend and colleague.
Savouring the experience of being seen by my nanny Lotta
– my teacher of ‘loving presence’.
Lyn and I had been exploring a topic that’s dear to both our hearts – expanding our capacity for being present to our lives. Not the kind of automatic response of “Here”, or “Present” I remember giving so often as a girl at school in Barbados when attendance was taken at the start of classes. Not just here in body, but really powerfully and authentically present and engaged in what’s going on.
As we ended that conversation, Lyn said something that deeply touched me in the moment she spoke it, as I shared it with Rachael, and again now as I write this. Her seeing in me, and then speaking so clearly something that is SUCH a big ‘yes’ in my life was an extraordinary gift.
Lyn said to me “Thank you for having done all the work you’ve done that allows you to be the container that you are, and the mirror that you are, and the voice of loving presence to self-responsibility. Thank you.”
Her words reverberated through me. I could feel this was important, not just for me, but as a way of naming a path to expanding our capacity for powerful, authentic, engaged presence to each moment of our lives. I was so struck by this notion that the next day I called her back.
We explored the way love and presence are inextricably linked. And in looking with eyes and hearts wide open, we saw more clearly the way we access presence through love. When we’re in a situation that feels too big, tender, or painful, we tend to pull back. It’s a natural, protective human reaction. Being held in loving presence is both our invitation back in, AND what creates the possibility for us to stay present – even to incredibly painful or tender experiences – without getting lost in overwhelm.
Lyn described her experience of me this way. “It’s as if we’re walking down the sidewalk, engaged together, and I’m not looking at the sidewalk. You see there’s a hump coming up that’s a toe-stubber, and with a gentle touch on the arm and a point you say “are you aware?”. You’re noticing and inviting me to notice what’s there. You’re not making me wrong. And, even if I miss it and fall down, there’s something about how you stand in the loving first, something about your embodying of the space, that makes it easier for me to access the compassion for my own humanity.”
She went on “It’s about the way you are present to the opportunity for self-responsibility. In your loving presence you notice, and shine the light on the possibility. You show us that undefended love through living it. You show it, you don’t just tell it. Love and presence. Those two have to go together.”
As I said “Thank you”, breathed deeply, and allowed the gift of Lyn’s seeing and speaking to land in me, the words that came to me were “I think many people don’t know what powerful, authentic, engaged loving presence looks like.”
Lotta was still looking out for and loving her ‘children’ 30 years later (yes, that’s me with the bad perm over 30 years ago!) when I took my boys to her home for a visit
And I shared with her the story of my nanny and teacher of loving presence, Lotta, who lived with us from the time I was born until I was seven. Lotta was an extraordinary presence in those formative years, and in countless ways, showed me the power of loving presence. Whether I was upset and overwrought, or excited and full of life, hers was the lap I could always count on to be there. At the same time she wasn’t a pushover. She knew her role, and in that, she never hesitated to give me clear guidance.
As I shared all this with Rachael last Wednesday evening, she echoed the power of this notion of showing, not just telling. She reminded me of two memories she had of times that my fierce loving presence had made a big impression and helped shape her life.
She recalled a time when she was in middle school, and there was a group home across the park from our house. Some of the teen girls who lived there used to come and sit and smoke behind some bushes which were just outside our kitchen window, but couldn’t be seen from their house. At that age, Rachael recalls thinking of them as ‘bad girls’, and the thing that so impressed her was the way I related with them. I felt great compassion for them, and though I never said this to her or them, I wanted them to know that if they ever needed a safe person, or space, I’d be someone they could count on. Not only did I never reprimand or ‘tell’ on them, I’d occasionally go out and chat with them over the fence, and whenever I was in the kitchen and saw them, I’d always wave. I don’t know if it made a difference for those girls, but it sure made a difference for Rachael.
She also remembered our meeting a street woman panhandling one day just after we’d come out of a theatre in downtown Toronto. Again, she was at that impressionable age where she was trying to figure out the way the world works. Neither of us can remember whether we gave her any money, but we DO remember my engaging the woman in conversation. In response the woman shared how much this meant to her, as most people went by without even acknowleding her existence, farless treating her with warmth. Somehow (and neither of us can remember how) she spoke of her longing for a hug. “I could do that!”, I responded, and as she opened her arms, I leaned in a hugged her. It was a powerful moment of human connection for all three of us.
Especially in situations which might be more challenging for us to be present to, this combination of human caring and presence can make such a difference in what’s possible.
In those moments which feel big, tender and painful for us, pulling back in an attempt to protect ourselves from the feeling of overwhelm is our natural human reaction. Rather than trying to ‘be good’ over top of that impulse, the invitation is to turn our loving presence first toward ourselves! When we’re able to meet ourselves there (wherever there is) we have a much better chance at being able to be genuinely powerfully and authentically present and engage with those around us in co-creating new possibilities.
Over the years, I’ve had lots of practice at loving myself in this way, and so appreciate the freedom I feel much of the time now, to be present wherever I am. Even though it can still be scary, it’s much easier now to say yes and step into challenging situations. AND, I’m thankful this weekend to not be feeling this kind of challenge! I’ve been in Canada for a couple days celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving, and enjoying the delight of having many of my extended family around me. SO, I’m going to press publish on this and go be with them.
While I’m always thankful for the presence of this community in my life, I’ll pause one more moment and send special wishes to any of you celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend, and look forward to doing so again in November to those of you who live in the USA. When we pause to notice, there’s so much in our lives for which to be thank-full!