A friend from my book club chooses a word or phrase as her aspiration for the year instead of making a list of resolutions. For 2018 she chose the phrase, “remember to practice” and she gave me credit because I said it at our last book club gathering. It’s something my coach said to me and I’ve found it very helpful. Following my friend’s lead, I’ve skipped resolutions and chosen the word “presence” as my goal for 2018. The photo accompanying this blog post reminds me what presence looks like.
It’s my favorite photograph of myself and not just because it’s me at 20 and many of us prefer photos of ourselves at 20 to more recent ones. It was taken on a sunny afternoon in Santa Rosa, California at the annual auction of the abandoned items in the student activities office lost and found. The popular event was the brainchild of the man with the microphone—a former fifth grade teacher and radio announcer turned associate dean of student affairs at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Although I don’t have a clear memory of that moment, I can guess that I was nervous about making a fool of myself by modeling the lost and found clothes. But as I look closely at the photo I see that I was surrounded by people who mattered to me and who thought well of me. No doubt bolstered by their encouragement, I grabbed the flower covered bell-bottoms and matching shirt out of the box, pulled them on over my clothes, and climbed onto the low bench that ran along the terrace. With Gene’s carnival barker voice behind me I showed this delightful ensemble to its best advantage, arms and leg akimbo. My friend Scott caught me giving myself over entirely to the moment with his camera. I was present and I was a presence.
The more I’ve looked at the photo in recent days, the more amazed I am by it. At 20, I did have the ability to be a presence. But I also was often dragged down into anxiety about the future and despair about the past. Self-conscious, self-critical, self-protective, I was the student body president who couldn’t pass a required math course. I was a state champion debater overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness. I hated myself far more than I loved myself.
It was around this time that I had the realization that if I spoke to my friends the way I spoke to myself, I wouldn’t have any friends. But it was many years before I put that insight into a practice of self-acceptance, a practice that allows me to be present in each moment and to be a presence in the world. To be conscious of being a presence in the world means being aware that the energy I bring into a situation will influence it for better or worse. I can choose to give myself over entirely and be a joyful presence or I can withdraw in fear. Here’s to joy!