Since naming it in my last Maralyn’s Musing, I’ve been reflecting more about the notion of Practical Presence. I’ve long known ‘presence’ was a really important part of my work in the world – though perhaps not presence in the way that many think of it.
Though meditation or chanting can be wonderful practices for centering and calming ourselves, and ones I often engage, I’m not talking here about what I sometimes refer to as “Om-ing Presence” – meditating or chanting as an end in itself. So, I’ve been musing on what I do mean.
This is clearly an on-going exploration, as often happens when I’m writing my Musings, today I experienced a situation in my own life where I was invited to greater Practical Presence. Still, I’m choosing to risk sharing my current thoughts here. I hope they may prompt reflection and and perhaps resonance in you, AND, whatever the case, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this!
So let’s dive in … What is Practical Presence?
It’s an alternative response to situations that feel challenging. Those situations where everything in us wants to scream “Isn’t it obvious something is off/wrong here? Don’t you see what I see? Doesn’t everyone see this?! Can’t you see the pain that this is causing? What’s happening isn’t fair, something needs to change!”
And especially in situations where we’ve been working to make a difference – calling for or trying to create change – for some time, when we realize that our ideas and voices are not being heard or responded to in the way we have hoped, it’s not surprising when our understandable human responses kick in.
Being caught up in challenging situations where our protective human reactions are triggered we often feel like we’re being controlled – others have the power and we can’t be ourselves ...
Those feelings of confusion, frustration, helplessness, anger, flow as they do, and if we’re not conscious of being Practically Present, it’s easy to:
- avoid, try to ignore, or deny the existence of the injustice
- collapse, numb ourselves, or run from the experience in all kinds of ways
- hold an either/or, us/them, you’re either for us or against us perspective that makes others ‘bad’, without recognizing the impact of the other’s lived experience
- lash out, fight back or use other ‘power over’/coercive tactics in an attempt to ‘fix’/right a wrong, or ‘guilt’ others into making changes to what’s been happening.
- open and curious
- calm and connected
- courageous and clear
- compassionate and creative.
What does Practical Presence give us?
In addition to this greater sense of freedom to stand in integrity in these previously untenable situations, Practical Presence expands our capacity to offer our unique contribution. From here we can:
- hold our visions of possibility
- take next steps in making those visions real
- begin to bridge the gaps and co-create connections where those had previously seemed impossible.
What does Practical Presence ask of us?
While the freedom it offers to choose our responses as we stand and navigate those challenging situations is very real, this isn’t a quick fix, on/off switch! Engaging the practice of Practical Presence is an invitation to a lifetime of practice that often runs counter to our deeply conditioned impulses.
Whether the challenge we’re experiencing is in our personal relationships, our workplace, community settings, or political systems, the first step and focus in nurturing the freedom of Practical Presence often seems and feels counterintuitive.
Without denying the reality of what’s happening ‘out there’ or what others are doing, Practical Presences asks us to look at these 7 relationships we all experience:
- Our relationship with pain – we’ve come to associate pain as meaning something bad and wrong is happening. Practical Presence reminds us that regardless of what’s triggering the pain, pain’s primary purpose is to point us to something that’s calling for our attention. Seen this way, rather than being something to avoid or turn away from, we can see pain as the friend/ally that it is.
- Our relationship with ourselves and each other – in interacting with each other, it’s easy to make the assumption that the way we see things is the way it is. To the extent that we live in that illusion, we set ourselves (and others) up for upset. It’s not surprising that we commonly view others as either getting in my way, or supporting me in getting what I want in life. Practical Presence is anchored in the understanding that we’re all connected, and for all the challenges and differences between us, the truth is we’re all living on this Big Blue Marble together. The recognition that there’s no us/them means there’s no escaping the fact that in each choice, and every moment, we’re all co-creating our future. Like it or not, we’re in this together. Having said that, it’s also important that we recognize those moments when, in honouring ourselves and each other, Practical Presence calls us to Practical Absence – without burning bridges or making wrong, acknowledging and attending to the pain in us when we recognize that at this time, given who and where we’re at, close collaboration isn’t possible.
- Our relationship with difference and what’s possible – our tribal and familial patterns have conditioned us to hold sameness as desirable, and difference as a threat. If you’re part of the majority, uniformity and predictability may make situations less challenging, and people easier to understand and get along with. Those of us who find ourselves on the cutting edge of difference (as visionaries, creatives, early adopters, ‘foreigners’, or other minority groups – POCs, LGBTQ, whistleblowers etc.) can often feel isolated and/or ostracized. Whichever group we fall into (and the combinations of intersections are many) the truth is no one experiences the world in the same way. We are ALL impacted by the differences between us. Practical Presence is an essential ingredient in embracing difference, and holding possibility in the face of those differences.
- Our relationship with complexity – it sometimes feels like life used to be simpler. The complexity of the challenges we face as humans today requires us to recognize there’s no simple answer, no ‘one right way’, and for all kinds of reasons, many of the solutions that used to work are no longer valid. And in our humanity, we adapt to this increasing complexity and the changes it brings at different rates – some of us faster than others. Sometimes staying ‘on our side of the fence’, rather than trying to get others to change at our rate is enormously challenging! Practical Presence calls us to acknowledge and honour our own feelings and the way we’re impacted by others’ differing speeds of adapting to this greater complexity.
Practical Presence calls us to examine and establish firm foundations on which we can build bridges across divides that have separated us …
- Our relationship with change – with the speed and pervasiveness (which can often feel like invasiveness) of communication and movement today, change often seems like the only constant. One of the challenges this presents for us humans is that while change can happen in an instant, it takes us a while for our bodies and psyche to integrate the transition that these changes require. As with complexity, change is another of those relationships Practical Presence calls us to acknowledge and attend to consciously.
- Our relationship with courage – historically we’ve seen courage as feeling the fear and bull-ing (or bullying) our way through it. Courage is one of the key components in meeting, facing and standing in all these changing relationships using Practical Presence. Especially when we’re feeling the less comfortable emotions of sadness, fear and anger, courage invites us to focus our energy in 3 directions:
- Down – the courage to anchor into the values/Codes that we came here to stand for and so are crucial for us to be in integrity with ourselves
- Horizontally – courageously being present and noticing what’s happening in and around us in this moment, and in the best way we can, nurturing ourselves right here
- Up and out (like arms raised into a V) – in the midst of whatever is happening right now, courage to hold the vision of possibility we’re committed to co-creating.
- Our relationship with power – even when we are being as courageous as we can the truth is that (as Ghandi, MLK, and countless others have experienced) for those of us called to be change agents in our world, there is no guarantee of protection or apparent success in our lifetime.While we hold the vision of possibility, there’s no way of knowing how long (or short) a time it’ll take for that vision to be fulfilled. Sometimes it can be really hard to even imagine the possibility of a shift in the power structure as it currently exists. Looking too far into the future or being attached to having a particular outcome by a certain time, are two of the surest ways to slip into overwhelm or despair. And so the question of how we access the power/energy to keep going is real. In addition to courage, those of us pioneering the practice of Practical Presence need to have each ‘now’ moment as our primary focus.
Although it may be challenging to acknowledge, the reality is that as hard as things sometimes have been, and even though resources may not have shown up in the way we might have hoped or expected, we’ve always had ‘enough’ of whatever we’ve needed to get us to this moment. Here again, while it’s crucial that we honour our human experience and any emotions that may wash over/through us without trying to force any particular outcome, Practical Presence calls us to practice trusting that there’ll be ‘enough’ of whatever we need to take the optimal next step.
What that optimal next step looks like will likely look different for each one of us – remember there’s no one right way! We’re all seeing the complexity of issues from our unique perspective. It also makes a difference when we remember that this vision of possibility is not ours alone – we are co-creators with Life itself, so (as best we can in each moment) say “yes” to allowing for the emergence of the surprising – in all kinds of forms.
The truth is that while we engage in Practical Presence in hopes of making a difference externally, that can’t be our primary measure of success. The internal sense of acting with integrity and so in alignment with our values makes the greatest difference in our own lives. And along with this, remembering that as part of the whole, we carry in us our unique contribution – the puzzle piece or pixel of the whole picture only we can add. Each of us does matter, our contribution is significant, it DOES make a difference – in our own lives, and to the life beyond ourselves to which we are connected.
As I said at the beginning, I’ve had the opportunity today to deepen my own practice in this. I’d love it if you feel drawn to join me and others in our community during our daytime, no cost, At Home with Maralyn & Friends call. Together we can extend this time of connection and sharing as we gather this Tuesday July 10 on our Maestro line at 1:00 pm ET. If it works for you, I’d love to hear your voice then. If you’ve never registered before, click here.