What the Hell is Presence?

I’m sitting here on my cushion, eyes closed, reflecting on how the hell I’m supposed to ‘be present.’ C’mon man! Be in the Now. Be With. You got this.

I’ll start by closing my eyes and look at my third eye. That’s what all the yogis talk about…I think…?

Ouch. That gives me a headache. How do people do this?

OK - that’s too much…how about I relax my eyes.

Wait…now I forget how to relax my eyes.

Let me just open my eyes. That works, too.

Go away Saturn…I love you but your cute cat self is too….

…..distracting. Back to eyes closed.

How long has it been? It has to be 5 minutes by now…

I think I want Kombucha…

Continue mental rant ….

Sound familiar? If you have meditated even once you know the feeling - flittering in your mind like a pinball in a machine from thoughts to thinking in an instant. Am I doing this right?! What am I supposed to be doing? Is it even working?!

It’s easy to get all defeated, make excuses for how you ‘can’t meditate’ or ‘sit still’, but lets be real...ANYTHING can be done with proper tools. The best part about life is that ANYTHING can be learned and we’re blessed with living in the Information Age - yes YouTube!

Having access to a wealth of information at your fingertips is great and awesome, but what matters is your COMMITMENT to using it. If you’re willing to give up the lies that you ‘can’t’, here is a crash course with three points in PRESENCE - one of the greatest outcomes to a meditation practice.

First - Presence is different than ‘The Present’

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The present is a moment in linear time - like Past, Present, and Future. The truth is you are ALWAYS in the present moment.

You can’t ever transport yourself back to the past, or hyper-blast yourself to the future. You are always in the present. But here is the caveat: you can be in the present and thinking about what that rude person said to you at Wegman’s 3 weeks ago and what you wished you replied back with; you can be in the present and be thinking about how awesome your life will be once you overhaul that annoying facet of your life you can’t wait to change. You can be in the present thinking that you’ll be happy when…..

You can be in the present moment, while simultaneously being no where at all! So what does all this talk about ‘being in the present’ mean anyway and how does it actually help you?

Well, if you move on from the fact that you are always in the present, the next step is tapping into something different: presence - or what I call an embodied state of being within the present moment. Presence is to be in your body, experiencing life viscerally - with feelings and sensations!

Acknowledging that there are spontaneous thoughts arising and dissolving.

A tool is discernment: recognizing when you have thoughts versus when you are caught up in thinking and making the choice to turn. Discernment is a spiritual gift and it looks and feels different than judgement. Its about getting real with yourself (from love) and acknowledging something like when you drift away, which happens!

One of the greatest harms you can do in your meditation is get angry with yourself for thinking. Start to get comfortable with the fact that the brain thinks - and that is OK!

Second - Thoughts and thinking are two different things

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Thoughts are spontaneous and arise and dissolve. They most likely do not follow a linear story line and are random pop-ups of reflections, reminders, and memories among many other categories. Sometimes a thought will pop into my head and I’m not gonna lie - I wonder, where the hell did that come from? 😹

I hear so many students say they can’t meditate because their brains are too busy and they can’t quiet the thoughts. This is so sad to hear because our goal of meditation is not to stop the thoughts! That is a big undertaking that realistically will only result in feelings of failure.

I’m not sure where these misconceptions came from, but I want you to know that finding presence is possible no matter what you think the inner workings of your brain are like.

So if thoughts are spontaneous and do not follow linear lines, thinking is that inner dialogue, the stories we continuously create around what we believe we’re experiencing.

For example, a thought may arise that you need to move the laundry to the dryer before work. This thought could arise and dissolve. Often what happens though is this thought becomes entangled with other related thoughts, and we transition into thinking.

Remembering that you need to move the laundry over turns into thinking about the detergent costs and how you may want to switch to a cheaper brand and how that STUPID lady at Wegman’s just really got you pissed when you were there to buy detergent and ugh…why didn’t I reply with this clever remark. And bam - you’re in the rabbit hole.

Now the rabbit hole is not bad. It’s not wrong. It’s not a place you need to feel guilt about entering into! Shit happens, the brain is just doing its job, go easy on ‘em! But you DO need to discern when thoughts turn into thinking and come back to your anchor: the thing that brings you back into presence.

This takes practice (which is why I’m grateful I have many lives to give it a go) and it leads me to my next point:

Have an anchor to return to

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An anchor is a tool you actively use to return to embodied presence within your body. If you’re caught up in the world of thinking you need to return to something.

When thoughts morph into thinking and become distracting (which they often do) return to something else your body can sense like your breath or even better - your actual physical body!

Meditation studies have shown that focusing on the body is much more effective than focusing on your breath for newer students. Breath practices are very subtle and harder to ‘feel’ whereas the physical body is much more tangible.

Your anchor could be body awareness like a self-guided body scan, a guided meditation where you follow the audio, pranayama or a breath control practice, star gazing or looking out of a window, or closing your eyes and watching the colors, patterns and shapes shift and morph.

Whatever you choose, you return to that place time and time again. Even if you need to return 10,000 times in 5 minutes, the practice is working, because you are practicing! Don’t give up!

My intention is to provide tools for anyone who is interested to enjoy the gift of meditation with some ease. For more on this I’ll write a blog post soon about my morning ritual.

If you’d like to join for in-class instruction, come out for my Meditation Foundations workshop on Tuesday January 29th at 5:45pm @ SHINE Power Yoga Maple Shade.

Satya: The Truth Hurts

"The way of peace is the way of truth. Truthfulness is even more important than peacefulness." - Gandhi

This isn't an easy story to tell. It may not be a story that will make you happy or feel joyous. It is simply a story that I need to tell.

It was a Thursday. I had just taken a marvelous Deep Hot Stretch class with Tracy in Maple Shade. I felt so relaxed and at ease, all tension released on the mat. I hopped in my car ready to take on the day, reveling in the warmth of my body.

I made a right turn out of the studio, heading my usual route to Medford. As I was listening to a True Crime podcast, my heart rate already a little elevated from the story line, I was jarred by a crash into the right side of my car.

Stunned, I looked into my rearview mirror only to see a woman hysterical on the left side of the road, hovering over what looked to be an animal. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind in one instant - the most glaring: "I think I just killed something."

I threw my car in park in the middle of the road, put my hazards on, and ran over to them - panicking and afraid to know the truth of what happened.

As I got closer I saw the dog lying in the grass and my whole world came crashing down on me. How was I going to live with the fact that I just hurt or killed this animal? After a moment - which was an eternity - the doggie started to move, walk and actually came over and sat in my lap, allowing me the sweetest moment to give him pets. I felt it was a nonverbal soul communication. We both knew we needed comfort from that traumatic experience and so we joined together.

After 10 minutes on the side of the road, giving lots of snuggles & kisses, hearing cars blaring at my car precariously parked in the road, the owner of the dog said they were fine - not to worry - and that she was going to go into the house now.

In a split second my mind questioned a thousand things again.

Should I give her my number? What if she tries to take advantage of me? Was this my fault? She said she was sorry - her dog was off the leash & across the street where they shouldn't be. Can I get sued? Will the dog be OK? Will she take them to the vet? How will I know any of this if I don't give her my contact?

And then....I left. She didn't ask so I didn't offer. Unfinished business flittering around like a pinball in my mind. The worries still hanging over my head. True - the dog was off the leash. It had ran to the other side of the road. The dog ran out from in front of a parked car so I did not even see it coming until I heard and felt the experience of it all. But still. I had played a role in this and I couldn't bear the thought of not knowing.

I wanted to leave a card, some peanut butter, some treats and my phone number to heal this wound of guilt on my heart. But I had fears. Insurance. Legality. Vet bills. I don't know this family.  What if they try to take advantage of me? After a week of worrying I called my mom for advice (thanks Mom!) She suggested filing a police report, to have this documented and to ask for their guidance on the situation.

I filed the report. But I never went to the house. Why? Because fucking life got in the way, of course! Other worries and anxieties filled the space instead and before I knew it I was swept away on another tangent of uneasiness. 

I lived in fear most of the month due to miscommunication & refraining from using my voice in many of my interpersonal relationships, except with Jonny. I struggled with my anxiety like I would back where I was years ago. I could see it all unfolding in front of me like I was watching a movie and yet I did nothing to stop it.

August has been a month of wild emotions. I reverted back to my old patterns - addiction to my anxiety and self-loathing thoughts. Refusal to ask for help from anyone but Jon; refusal to ask for connection; refusal to do the work.

This all started from one moment. Me not acting in my truth. Me not upholding my values & morals in a split second decision that broke a seam within my psyche. This is not far off from the me of years past. I used to never stand in my power. I felt and acted small. I was afraid to voice my opinions, my fears, my viewpoint. And I saw myself doing all of this - again. Building up over each day that passed.

I practiced yielding to my emotions - allowing the anxiety to flow in without any effort to curb it. I am happy I let myself feel this month as it provided me with many lessons on how I act when I feel overwhelmed, neglected, ashamed & guilty. And I saw what can happen when I do not live from my truth - it eats me alive.

To be fair, I was never good at opening up. I was always secretive. Holding my hard truths inside me so as not to burden anyone else around me. Partly because I did not want to hear those truths leave the protected home of my mind.

Looking at ourselves is not easy.

The yogic path is not easy. It means I see myself clearer when I am acting out my karmic patterns. But there had to be a point where I said fuck this! Enough is enough girl!

I met with my mentor and she could visibly see all of these things that I was carrying around. She felt I was holding on to my anxiety and to reflect on what it was feeding. She was right...It was feeding something alright..

I became addicted to my anxiety this month. Once fear lives inside me it spreads like wildfire and somehow it feels like more energy to heal than to let the flames burn me alive. But ultimately, I have a choice. Where does my anxiety stem from and what is it feeding? Where can I go from there?

I've learned much quicker this time than in years past when it's time to say ENOUGH. When it's time to make the switch. When it's time to identify that I'm no longer yielding - I'm wallowing. When it's time to stop wallowing and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! When its time to start telling the truth, seeing the truth and experiencing the truth - even when it hurts.

I had to clear. Sit down with those I needed to. To express the hard truths, the fears I was living with, to connect & heal.

And yes- I've learned how to yield. How to let these emotions flow in and flow out without needing to fix it right away. But...then what? Stay an anxious mess & drive myself crazy?

Hell to the nawwww.

And damnit I am dropping off my phone number and peanut butter!