Being present in the moment is a big thing these days, as it should be. It is something with which I struggle on a daily basis. Intellectually we can appreciate the value of being present, but putting it into practice is difficult; old habits of the mind are hard to change. And what can we really expect should we achieve the holy grail of Presence anyway?
But then I recently had a remarkable experience that gave me a taste of just how wonderful and transforming complete, unwavering presence can be. As I walked out of a movie theater I inexplicably stopped dead in my tracks. There before me was the most mundane and superficially insipid scene you could imagine. I was looking out across a large parking lot…but somehow it was so much more than that at this particular moment.
I became totally immersed in the clouds along the horizon and the tall royal palm trees lining the street. The golden hour was approaching making the green and grey of the trees glow with a seemingly heavenly light. I studied the shapes of the clouds and the lines of the tree trunks. My eyes were transfixed on the scene. I felt a deep appreciation and affection for each element of the scene—the trees, the sky, and clouds. I felt exceedingly alive and happy. So much so that I stood there for quite some time scanning the scene. I didn’t want to take even one step and lose these feelings of joy.
As I drove home, my mind continued to seek presence in what I saw along the way, but sadly I was forced to keep my eyes on the road and attend to my driving. I had hoped that I would re-enter the mystical state of awareness I had experienced when I got home but it was not to be—not then, the next day, or the days to follow. I was left disappointed and wondering just what it was that I experienced and how to get back there again.
During that short span of presence I saw the beauty and wonder of simple things around me in great detail. What usually was a mind busy with useless thoughts was totally focused on what was before me. It showed me that when we are truly present in the moment, we see things we didn’t notice before. We see the beauty in things that previously scarcely caught our attention. We see things as they really are.
When present and interacting with others, we perceive beyond the superficiality of appearance and words. As Thich Nhat Hanh has suggested, we hear and see people deeply with greater understanding and compassion.
Achieving presence is well worth the effort because it can lead to an elevated state of being and awareness which in turn will lead to greater happiness and joy. The simplest things can be seen as they really are: beautiful and fascinating. This is the gift of presence.
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