by Sandrine Harris
Coming home to yourself is a process of daily awakening. Presence is an unfolding practice of engaging your whole self — every cell, every breath, every thought.
I am continually amazed at how easily we can become “un-present”: pulled into past and future thinking. Like swirling whirlpools, our minds continuously flow from one place to another, and we tend to cyclically revisit the unpleasant parts, too. Several recent studies have looked at rates of distraction (which we can think of as lack of presence) and the feeling of happiness. It seems the more distracted and not-in-the-moment we are, the more difficult it is to feel happy, contented and connected to others along with other important feelings for well-being.
When meditation students tell me they are not able to be fully present because they cannot keep their focused attention on one thing (for example, working with the breath as their focus), I remind them (and myself) of how easily we can fixate on difficult experiences or memories involving shame, humiliation, fear, or other challenges. We tend to review these feelings with the utmost attention and cyclical precision. And this is good news. This means that we can train our minds and bodies to do this concentrated feeling and thinking in the present moment, too!
Presence is possible, and it is a gift. Using tools from awareness practices like the Feldenkrais Method® and mindfulness meditation, we learn the beauty of engaging with life in a different way. When we create more space for the n-o-w, we are carving out more space to be well, to think more clearly, to tune in and check in with our bodies, and to relate to others. With embodied practices, we find delight in paying attention to the breath, in sensing our toes. We get curious about watching our minds — non-judgmentally. We allow ourselves to be in the deep knowing that we must give ourselves over to ourselves, and surrender our worries around goals, time pressures, or financial woes in favor of living fully in this moment.
This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. And when we’re here, we can begin to sense the important things more clearly and the less important things begin to take up less space. We untangle the wires and sort the sock drawer. We do not ignore our past or future, or pretend any difficulties are different from what they are (though sometimes our perspective on them changes a great deal through mindful practice), but there is something more: ourselves. Outside of our jobs, our self-identification, our long-held stories, and our defined roles, we’re also the same as ever: human beings, with a beating heart, an imagination, and the ability to engage and connect with meaning.
Self-care, choice, kindness, and connection all happen through presence. It is the first and most important part of awakening our mind and body. We need to awareness of both to be well.