How to Find Calm Through Fierce Presence

Different teachers define presence in different ways–Dr. Dan Siegel says it’s “being aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it.” Eckhart Tolle calls it “rising above thought.”  To me, it means being present in my body for all the sensations in and around whatever experience I’m having.

I am not always present. In fact, I’m not nearly present nearly as often as I’d like to be.

Sometimes, I’ll think I’m being present, but I’m actually just ‘thinking in nature’ (not unlike my form of meditation which can turn into ‘sitting and thinking’). I’ll walk along and look at trees, or the water, or watch birds, but my mind is still going a million miles an hour in the background.

When I was really having a hard time financially–when I didn’t have money for soap–I realized that, in order to stop the mind from freaking out (and therefore making me feel terrible), I had to be fiercely present. I’m not sure if that’s my phrase or not, but I like it. It means being completely vigilant about stopping the mind – not observing thoughts but stopping them altogether–by focusing intensely on my immediate surroundings and physical sensations. Really looking at buds on a tree, without naming them or thinking, “Oh, that’s pretty” or anything–just witnessing them as they are, for what they are. Or listening to the sound of running water, or watching the flicker of a candle. Any brief step away from this super-intense focus and my mind will start taking off like a runaway horse, with me strung behind it.

I remembered this the other day when I’d had a long stretch of unpleasant emotions, brought about by thoughts about a situation in my life. (On my list to write about: Situations are neither here nor there; it’s our resistance to them, and the thoughts/stories we create around them that either make us ‘happy’ or cause us pain). I hadn’t been able to snap out of this rut, and I was feeling frustrated by that (I mean, how long have I been practicing all this?).

By chance, I wound up sitting in a room that was softly lit with candles, had sculptures featuring running water, with very soothing music playing in the background. I knew I’d be there for about 15 minutes, so I used that time to practice fierce presence. I watched the candle; I listened to the water-sculpture and the soft music. I felt my breath flow in through my nose, and I focused on the sensations in my hands and feet. Occasionally, I closed my eyes and focused on the space between my eyes (my most instant-calm form of meditation). And I relaxed my body as much as possible.

I shouldn’t be surprised that it worked, but I really was surprised at how well it worked. By the end of the 15 minutes, all the negativity and resistance seemed to be gone, and I felt peaceful, calm and accepting. Of course, in subsequent days, more layers of the same pain came up, but I think that’s par for the course when dealing with pain. And when it happened, I instinctively began the physical process of fierce presence, knowing that I needed to draw energy away from my mind and allow it to move through my body.

image credit: Samuel Austin via Unsplash

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Sarah Chauncey

For more than two decades, I struggled multiple treatment-resistant mood disorders. I spent more than 20 years in psychodynamic therapy and tried 18 different medications. In 2010, I began searching for ways to rewire my brain naturally for inner peace. I write about the practices and insights that have improved my mental, physical and spiritual health.


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