Revisiting Presence

Lately I’ve been bombarded with the word presence. Mom and dad thank me for my presence, in my coaching classes I’m urged to be present, in my relationships I look for friends who are present. Lately I’ve been wondering to myself, “What does it even mean to be present?”

For some presence means creating inner space, others know it as experiencing the present moment as holy, still others need only marvel at the night sky to feel it. To me, it is a state of inner non-resistance where you make peace with every situation as if you had chosen it.

These are all great examples, but all this talk about presence has left out one crucial piece: How to be present when it’s needed most – in pain and discomfort. Nothing is more effective worsening bad situations than fighting them.

Last week I got rid of my cooking mandoline after badly cutting myself using it. With the tip of my left thumb freshly bandaged, I walked to the trash chute to angrily throw it away. As I threw it, it opened up and filleted open my hand, leaving me with twenty stitches by the end of the night. I was less concerned with not being able to use my thumbs for two weeks than my failure to practice what I preach. Had I made peace with the situation, I would have safely dropped the mandoline into the trash, leaving me with at least one useful thumb to text with.

Maybe the lesson here is to treat sharp objects with care, but there is a far more profound message: Yield to pain. Make peace with it. If that doesn’t help then desire pain as Phil Stutz and Barry Michaels suggest in The Tools. Pain is present in every part of life from the labor your mother endured birthing you, to any romantic relationship. I know, making yielding to pain sounds crazy and masochistic, but it’s crazier to avoid such a predictable part of life.

Can you think of a time when resisting your pain or discomfort made it better? When was the last time you fought your unhappiness and won?