I've been trying to figure out how to be here. Right here in whatever moment I find myself in, fully engaged, fully alive. I'm not very good at it. It's uncomfortable sometimes, or sad or boring. I get restless. In our distracted and cluttery digital age, practicing presence feels imperative and subversive. We all must explore our here's--wherever they are--Like that big star on a map at the mall or themepark or hiking trail. You are here. Our here-ness orients us, grounds us, lets us pick our heading. But first, you have to sit with it.
I sat up several nights last week with different children as they got hot, achy, shivery, nauseous and finally sick into the bowl, sometimes violently so, again and again for hours until they collapsed into sleep, totally exhausted. There isn't much you can do for a kid with the stomach flu in the dead of the night but sit with them, offer them a sip of water, try and distract them, and then keep sitting.
Practicing presence when your here is hard or painful is a lot like this. You can't control it. You don't know how long you'll be here, you just have to sit with it. Waiting. Breathing in and out. Still here. It isn't glamorous. It's tedious, sitting with it. It's boring. Sometimes, the only thing you can do for a person in pain is sit with them. There isn't much you can offer but your presence, your hereness, but that's enough.
Finnly didn't want any noise while we sat up together, no distractions. Just dark and quiet waiting. There are moments when I pray that feel like this, dark and quiet waiting in the midst of something uncontrollable. Prayer is simply presence, drawing near, being here with the Almighty, no matter where your here is. Nothing can separate us from his presence.
I pray simply: inhale, mantra, exhale. Over and over.
Before we can move on, pick a direction and go for it, we have to know where we are, where our here is on the topographical map of our lives. It's rare that our heres sync up with one another. Spiritually, mentally, emotionally, everyone's in a different place, even when they're physically in the same place. I'm on a mountain, you're in a valley. Miscommunication comes easily when you assume someone is beside you on the mountain, but they aren't. They're in the river or the dark valley and they think they're alone.
Practicing presence and embracing our here-ness gives us several gifts: it lets us be able to communicate where we are to others; it reminds us that while we are all in this together, we may not all be in the same here, this doesn't erase our togetherness; it can give you information to tell you which direction to head, which choice to make next, discipline or idleness, kindness or self-protection; it gives us the endurance to show up for the hard things, the shitshows, without fixing them.
It's the gift of just saying, "hi friend, I see you there."
Practicing presence is the beginning of empathy.
But first, you have to sit with it.