December: Presents & Presence
This time of year is special in many ways. It’s a time that can be filled with great fun and joy: friends returning back home, families gathering together and flying in from all over the world, xmas parties & markets, gift giving and receiving. It’s also a time of change and darkness as we draw closer and closer to the shortest day and the end of the year. Many of us spend these short days looking for gifts to give, finding just the right present for just the right person… I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately, this idea of presents. Or really – presence.
What would it be like if we exchanged presence instead of presents?
All I wish for Christmas is being with my girls, sitting around a table, listening to their stories, cooking with them – just being with them. Since they are living in Australia, it’s quite a stretch for us to spend time together. This is when time – the present moment becomes really valuable. My daughters at times say to me: „Mom, you are not listening, I have told you that story before.“ And it happens a few times. And I feel caught and it is true; how many common moments are lost when we only hear half of what someone is saying, worrying about our next job, or scratching a thing off our to do list in our mind. We are parents at times picking up our children from “kindy” with the handphone in hand, having breakfast with our partner while reading the newspaper or eating dinner watching TV.
My mom said to me last year for Christmas that she is “gifting time” this year; to take a friend for a xmas punch; to go to the old people’s home; to take the time to knit a pair of socks for my girls or just taking the train to Vienna to sit with me and listen to my endless stories. I realized then and there that there is actually no material present that can ever make up for this gift of presence.
What does it really mean to be present with the person you are with?
It is not just being physically present or even intellectually present, but it is an emotional & spiritual presence – mindfulness is very similar. But I feel presence even pinpoints it more. It really describes that feeling of tuning into another person fully. This presence suspends your ‘self’ for a moment. You aren’t there just so you can get something from the other person, or to get their acknowledgment of you. What that means is you can get to know the other person as they are and be with them in that moment without anything more. So you can understand them without comparing them to you, without adding your own judgment and preconceptions of who you think they are and what they want.
You realise that your presence means so much to them; it is like a present, a gift of unconditional love. In turn, your relationships become more meaningful and have more depth to them. You start to really understand people, and just as importantly, you start to truly understand yourself and be present to the ‘you’ that is manifesting at this very moment.
How can yoga help?
The last month our subject was our own practice, our sadhana, Patanjali’s second chapter about our yoga practice as the path to ultimate freedom. As Patthabi Jois says:” Practice and all will come”. An on-going yoga practice, pulling out the mat over and over again is really a way of stopping and saying: “hmm, this is time for me this is the time to come back to the present moment, out of the head, into the body and into the breath.” This presence is really a present to yourself.
It is my regular and steady practice that allows me to be fully present, present with the people in front of me when I teach, present with myself and present with my closest loved ones.
So taking this practice off the mat into this month of celebrations, means for me to ‘tune into’ the moment next time I am with someone. Really to be there with them and be there for them. See if I can suspend the chattering mind for just a moment, to leave behind the preconceptions and assumptions of what I think the other person is saying, or I want to say to them, so I can really listen to what they are saying with their mouths, their body, and their heart. To make them feel like in that moment, they are the most important person for me, because indeed they really are.
What a present to be present!