If you’d asked me three months ago how I would be doing if a tornado ripped through my community and then two weeks later we started hearing about hundreds and then thousands of Americans dying of a strange virus that would ultimately be killing upward of 100,000 in the U.S. alone with the epicenters being in states where much of my family lives and then another week or so later schools would be canceled and businesses would all be forced to close and we would need to wear masks to go to the store and stay at least 6 feet apart from people wherever we are, that this condition would last for two months and counting with the kids never returning to school and my wife and me not returning to work outside of our home and much of my community still looking like the tornado just happened…
If you’d asked me to imagine all of that back then and how I would be doing two months in, all of these emotional responses would have been easily assumed. But, my imagination would have colored them far more intensely than reality has. All of us are more resilient in life than we are in our imaginations. Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one knows this. But, resilience is about bouncing back. We are still in it! We still don’t know how or when or if this thing will end - or when it will come back. Dealing with this requires something different: less wild imagination - more observation, less reaction - more reflection, less action - more stillness.
Presence asks: what of this situation can I control?
Stress scleroses around all of it that I can’t control, thus constraining my ability to control what I can.
Presence allows me to maintain agency in the face of what feels like chaos.
Anger reduces agency to reaction - a destructive behavioral loop.
Presence asks what I know differently today, and based on that, what will I do differently?
Disillusionment wanders and wonders in all that I don’t know, thus leaving me unsure of what to do at all.
Presence makes the most of the connections and the tools within my grasp.
Loneliness feeds on what I don’t have or is no longer within my grasp given the circumstance.
Presence builds muscle.
Fear builds scar tissue.
Presence reminds us that our sadness must be accepted and tended to. It won’t go away. It may be stuffed or hidden or put aside for a variety of healthy and unhealthy reasons. But, it will be expressed at some point, in some way, and its easiest expression is in the present - as sadness.
It is important for me to note that I am fortunate to-date to have remained healthy and to have not been touched by Covid-19 directly. That’s first and foremost. I am also fortunate to still have work and a home that was only modestly damaged by the tornado. So, let me be clear, I feel very fortunate despite the times.
And still, Presence isn’t easy for me. In fact, it’s a discipline that, as often as not, loses out to all of these other emotional responses. So, Presence must also be a principle as much as it is a practice - a principle that drives and encourages the practice in the face of all the rest.
Presence in the time of…whatever happens next.