Presence - The Best Presents
This season, as we go through another round of discussion about the “most politically correct” way of greeting others during the holidays, we continue to drift ever further from the spiritual foundations that make this period significant. We are having the wrong argument. As we continue to define and express the season through the hustle-and-bustle commercial parade of material goods, events and expectations that pass for things spiritual, many of us continue to set ourselves up for the sense of depression and let-down that often accompanies or follows the season. Now that we have discussed the importance of gratitude and of re-connecting to the reason for the season in earlier articles, let’s take a look at presents.
Better yet, let’s take a look at presence – the best contribution we can make to others during this holiday season. Not only do the words sound the same, they come from the same Latin root words, “prae” (before) and “esse” (to be). The noun “present” comes from the same source as the adjective meaning “here.” For those of us who celebrate Christmas, it is important to remember that our material presents are merely tokens of our love for others – in the same way the wise men delivered their tokens in gratitude for the Presence that came to us on that day of Nativity. In the words of the popular Christmas carol, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” we touch the reality that we, ourselves, are the finest holiday gifts we can offer. Being home implies more, however, than simply showing up. This is a time for Being Present to those we love – and those we are yet learning to love.
The Gift of Presence
Perhaps, this gift of presence is the most challenging kind of present we can give, because it requires sacrifice of ourselves on a level that far surpasses mere material token. First, it requires the sacrifice of what we are for what we can become – more loving human beings. It begins with the sacrifice of attention we have formerly put upon ourselves and our personal concerns to be put to the full attention of others and their concerns. It involves the sacrifice of courage to give up on impression management of relationships; on the need to be right; on the need to be “one-up,” or “better than” in favor of being vulnerable in relationship – because true intimacy can only happen with vulnerability. Being present to another means really listening – with our whole heart – before ever considering what we might have to say in reply. Being present means sacrificing concerns of the dead past and the imagined future to be fully in the moment we are sharing with another.
Especially, during a sacred celebratory season, being present in a relationship involves being authentic (real), while offering oneself in a state of lovingkindness in our communion with others – literally celebrating the presence of spirit in each other. This is not necessarily easy, especially in relationship to people with whom we have the most history. This might include parents, siblings, children, spouses, neighbors, gotta include ex’s – pretty much the whole gamut. Where can we begin, or do we even want to begin?
After all, it would be easier to simply fall back into the convention of attempting to materially compensate for what we fear to give spiritually and emotionally, and perhaps others would do the same. That would be easier. But this is for those willing to take the risks and offer presence to those with whom they share their lives.
First, being real means we must first accept our feelings, even when we don’t feel as celebratory as we think we ought to be during this period – even if uncle Harry drops by unexpectedly – a little tipsy even! Once we accept our feelings without putting demands on ourselves to feel otherwise, we can focus on what’s important: what we do with those feelings.
The holidays are a time in which life becomes concentrated. As we return to each other and live more intensely, more happens in less time. Naturally, we are going to experience a (probably intense) mix of feelings. This is a time, more than any other, where we are called upon to communicate along the growing edge of our relationships, unresolved conflicts included. This is where presence becomes the best presents. Those of us who are consciously working on our growth and recovery will welcome the chance to tear down walls and build bridges in our relationships. Others of us will be too frightened or too angry. When we do express courage in trying to connect, our loved one may be too frightened or too angry. Anger, turned inward (as in smiling through your holiday rage), leads to depression. There is one important thing we need to remember. For most of us, the holidays will not be all joy . . . and that's okay.
In our seeking to understand and be understood, honesty with the other becomes as important here as honesty with self. We can share our truth, our perceptions and our needs; always being sure to listen as others share theirs. We can never be wrong when we share from our experience.
If we are getting any wiser at all, we realize that material gifts can never compensate for the emotional pain between us . . . for the potentially healing things that yearn so to be said. Will we risk it, finally? Will we say it this year, or dreading the worst possibility, will we put it off to the next in hopes they will still be around? There is a greater pain, by far, than the pain of fear. And that pain is the pain of love unexpressed. Time only exists in reality as "now." And the only time we have power to express ourselves is in the "now." What do we need in order to say what we know must be said now?
For most of us, what we need to achieve authentic presence with others is courage: the sacrifice of our fear. It is the fear of being honest and open about our feelings in our close relationships that keeps us stuck. We fear rejection. Especially during the holidays, such feelings do not open us to the experience of joy: not within ourselves and not with each other. In the interests of "getting through it without a blow-up," we sacrifice all the joy we could have through true communion for the trickle of delight to be had in the momentary exchange of the goods through which we attempt to symbolize our true feelings. And another year goes by with our feeling that something is missing.
This year, we can do it differently by offering our complete presence to others in our lives. Let us share our love while we still have a chance. Once we realize that offering this presence really involves only the sacrifice of those things that hold us back, we will better understand the meaning of the holidays – especially the spirit of Christmas and the Life it represents.
Next: Tolerance – The Gateway to an Open Heart
Granville Angell (copyright 12/2005)
Granville Angell, EdS, LPC, NCC is a licensed professional counselor with 30 years experience. His private practice, TRANSITIONS Personal & Family Counseling Services (www.transitions-counseling.com), includes a specialized sub-practice focusing on holistic, intuition-enhanced counseling and clinical hypnotherapy, called SoulMentors.