The Paradox of Presence

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly The Paradox of Presence_imageblogger.

I’m beginning to believe that being present is the most important thing to be. That’s a big statement for me, at least the part of me that’s driven, calculating and constantly planning for this or that contingency.

This morning I received a note from a friend, Carol, who runs a successful business training and development business. She had just read my post, Be Present – Another Reminder, and she was compelled to share this story:

“In early April of 1999 I took a sailing trip off the coast of Mississippi with some of my experiential learning friends. We titled the trip, ‘You must be present to win!’ At that time I had been recently laid off and was just working contracts, trying to find what’s next. During the sail we discussed what it means to be present and what you win if you are present.

It was truly an amazing two days doing things I love to do and with people I love to be with so it was rather easy to be present. I could tell you almost every moment of that trip still today. The outcome was a very clear path forward. I was moving back to Iowa closer to family and starting my own consulting firm. And on May 7th, 1999, I did just that with absolute clarity and resolve.”

Carol’s story reminded me of my own that I recount in my book Erik’s Hope. One day, at a crossroads regarding a decision about starting my business, I abandoned my typical desk work and followed my heart (and dog) to the beach. After a full day of meandering among sand, surf and a bountiful sand dollar harvest, I was quite clear about my decision. Magic ensued, as predicted by these famous lines:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!

For both of us, the present moment was the mechanism that allowed us to see our future steps clearly. That’s a tough concept, as our tricky minds hijack the moment and we think planning the future is more important than feeling what’s true now. In fact, the act of being present will carry us into our perfect future. It’s the paradox of presence.

Begin it.

When we embrace the moment (an idea), and stay present, we automatically embrace the next (a possible action). One thing leads to another.

If you are at a crossroad, overwhelmed, or even bored – draw in a breath. Look, listen and feel the presence around you. I’m betting your next move will serve you well.

Take It Easy

by Andrea Chilcote

This week, I’m having an adverse reaction to things that are “hard,” and so I’m practicing ease. This encore post seems appropriate today. It appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where I’m a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

I’m struck by how many of my friends and colleagues have been touched by my resolve to not look back. We all know it’s an obviously sensible ambition to remain present and move forward moment by moment – there’s nothing that can change the past – but so many of you have said “It’s hard.”

“Hard” is a concept, a familiar state of being we’ve conditioned our minds to believe. Oh, I get it … in fact, a dear friend commented on one of my recent posts saying,  “See how easy it is …” and I immediately wanted to reply: “That was not at all easy! In fact getting to that realization was very hard!”

But I realized that “hard” can be a mental concept focused on the presumed future vs. the moment (“It will be difficult to remain present when my husband’s children visit.”) or it can be literally true (“This jar is hard to open.”)

What we need are tools for escaping from the mental concept of “hard” when it bears down, eclipsing the beauty of right now.

So how do we make being present “easy?” Many before me have written of and taught tools and techniques. I offer you mine in simple form.

Breathe. Attention to the breath brings attention to the body. When we focus on (or obsess on) what happened before, we are literally out of our physical bodies and in our mental bodies. Practical tool: When you feel fear, anxiety, or guilt – take a breath, then another. Notice it. The result? Your attention will re-focus on now, if even for a second.

Empathize. This one works if you can’t get clear on how you yourself are feeling in this very moment. How is a significant other experiencing it right now? Caution – it’s against the rules to consider what he or she thought or felt moments or days before. This is about now.

Focus. I know this may be the hardest one…oops! There’s that word again. But really, it is the most liberating thing we can do. Stop right now and focus – ask yourself, “What is true now?” and really pay attention. I’m betting it’s not as bad as your mind might have conjured up. If it’s not, enjoy the break. If it is, then you just got a dose of reality to use to take remedial action. Now.

Do what you can (not what you can’t). A friend reminded me of this piece of wisdom she learned in a workshop many years ago. I had told her that while I know that not looking back is a practice we all can manage, I do not know how to advise those who have suffered tragic losses. Who am I to suggest that they leave the past behind, if the past contained love and life that is literally not here today? What I realized is this. When one practices presence in small ways (staying focused amidst life’s small irritations, for example), the “big” things become easier because of habit, not because we worked on them specifically. We never lose the memories but we care for ourselves by experiencing them in the context of this very moment.

Think about the ways in which you work to stay present in your daily lives. What do you do when “showing up” here and now is essential? If you have a practice for times like that, it can work at all times.

Being Present

Erik's Hope

Kairos at home

by Andrea Chilcote

I am on my way from Arizona to Toronto, sans winter coat. This is despite having purchased a new down-filled dress coat just last week while in New York, in the midst of yet another experience of being ill prepared for winter wind chills.

So the question I am asking myself is this: “Was I so present to the mild winter pre-dawn in Cave Creek that I didn’t realize I left the house in just a light business jacket (didn’t realize it until entering the airport actually), or was I consumed by a cluttered mind, flotsam and jetsam taking the space allotted for clear thinking?”

I’m going with the latter, the former being an admittedly clever rationalization. Despite a life-long commitment to staying present in the moment, I still succumb to the pull of my analytical mind, oblivious to my surroundings or the task at hand.

Some view being present as a virtue. I don’t see it that way. In my opinion, it’s just an available choice, a minute-by-minute choice as to how to walk through one’s day. It’s a way of fully engaging in life’s joyful moments as well as managing inevitable stressors. And it’s a requirement for true connection with other human beings.

The dogs teach me the lesson of presence anytime I’m awake enough to notice. Those familiar with the story of the sand dollars in our new book Erik’s Hope will recall how I learned to access my creative intuition through Erik’s gift of a day of play on a beach in South Carolina, as well as how I learned to truly treasure precious time with him when the end was near.

That lesson is ongoing. When Amigo suddenly became ill in January of this year, he required intense care. We had hope that he would recover, and of course I wanted to be with him; offering the kind of care only a mother could give. I have a vivid memory of sitting on my bathroom floor as dear Dr. Kit tended to him shortly after surgery. We began to talk of my travel schedule that week, and what I would do. I stopped mid-sentence and said: “I cannot worry about Wednesday, or even tomorrow. I can only manage right now, and now, today, I am here, available and present.” That philosophy carried me for three months as Amigo rallied and regressed until his inevitable death. People came along to help when needed and things got done, as they always do. I look back on times like this in my life (and there have been a few this year) and wonder where my stamina came from. I am certain that I channeled my energy wisely, allowing only the matter at hand to matter.

Erik's Hope

Erik's Hope In Kairos

The mind is a useful yet tricky tool. Our capacity for conceptualizing, analyzing and calculating is unrivaled in the animal kingdom, and this ability easily seduces our attention away from the matter at hand. It can craft fears and contingencies, and infer meanings that do not exist. Or it can be a brilliant partner to the creative process. Working in tandem, it’s as if our heart says “Here’s what I want and need,” and our mind says, “Okay, let’s figure out how to get that for you.”

This summer, a wise friend met my new pup, Kairos. She said “Andrea, Kairos has an important purpose in your life. He is here to help you tame your ‘eagle mind,’ and remind you to lead with your heart.” One need only look into the depths of his blue eyes to understand that is true.

Yes, I am willing to allow my heart to take the lead. And perhaps I’ll remember my coat on the next trip.

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