A blog post by Patton Hyman.
Presence is an innate aspect of human experience which, for a variety of reasons, people fail to recognize. It’s the state we’re in when we’re not distracted and are in touch with the direct experience of sense perceptions, bodily sensations, and emotions or feelings. The first step in recognizing it is seeing that we generally don’t even consider whether we’re present or not.
Practicing mindfulness meditation, we can’t help but notice that we’ve created an ongoing narration or soundtrack to our life. Whatever we’re going through is constantly accompanied by a stream of commentary, explanations, theories, and complaints. This mental chatter colors the world for us because we’ve identified the two: we don’t see the commentary as a separate phenomenon from the direct experience of whatever is going on around us. We see a coworker and automatically put a label on him or her as good guy or gal, jerk, undermining enemy, threatening boss.
To up the ante, situations often “push our buttons” and we experience annoyance, irritation, or anger. Then the habitual tendency of mind is to construct a story line about the other individual or situation (“he enjoys trying to make it difficult for me” or “she’s trying to make me look bad” or “I hate situations like this”). In this way we move from simple labels to a narrative. Stringing these narratives together, we weave our interpretation of life.
“Making sense” in this way, life seems less disjointed. We feel like we’re “getting a grip” and may even be in control. So we make for ourselves a reassuring comfort zone. This is the sense in which what people speak about as “creating our own reality” is actually true. It’s not that the building, the car, the tree, or the other person doesn’t exist except as a figment of our own thoughts; nor can we bend them to our will. Rather, we have mentally created the context in which we experience those things or people as having meaning. The plot thickens, literally, until presence is lost in the fog of our storylines.
When we cultivate presence by practicing mindfulness, we unravel those plots and uncover the ability to inhabit our lives fully. We don’t interact with the world bound by the narrative or commentary in our heads, but we can open to life in a full and complete away. We recognize the experience of presence as well as its implications in the world.
Mindfulness is a practice and experience of relaxed alertness. Applying mindfulness we learn how to be genuinely who we are, manifestations of presence. Then we live our lives as an expression of that. Applying mindfulness is not a prescription to register every detail of every situation that you encounter, but to approach all situations with an attitude of openness.