Presence as a Present

View of the brilliant sunset outside of Roosevelt Field Mall on Dec 24 as shoppers wound down their gift-buying.

View of the brilliant sunset outside of Roosevelt Field Mall on Dec 24 as shoppers wound down their gift-buying.

The day before Christmas, my partner and I went to see Star Wars out at Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island. As to be expected, the mall was filled with shoppers, scrambling to find gifts at the last minute. My partner lamented that he wished we could get back to the true meaning of Christmas, one of experiencing and offering simple Joys. I totally understood his sentiment. We all know the holidays have become so commercial and much focus is on the material.

Still as I looked around, I also imagined that all these people at the mall rushing here and there were likely looking for a gift for someone in their life who was important enough to them that they wanted to give them something meaningful and special. So in addition to the swirl of commercialism, I also felt the generosity that was abundant in people's hearts and minds that day. People were thinking about others' best interests.

Beyond the materialism that dominates this time of the year, there is another gift that we can offer our loved ones that can be deeply felt and appreciated. This gift is our simple presence. Here are a few of my favorite Thich That Hanh quotes, which illustrate this and how we can be in touch with it:

When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?

Everything we are LOOKING for is right HERE
in the PRESENT moment.

Walk SLOWLY.  Don’t rush.
Each STEP brings you
to the best MOMENT
of your life,
the PRESENT moment.

If yoga can help us in any way, it can help us to slow down, encourage us to put down our cell phones and help us to see how much we miss by not being present with the things around us. More often than usual, I found myself this past month simply walking on the city sidewalks and standing on the subway without my cellphone in hand. I just wanted to be more present to what was happening around me, and I had some hope that my simply being more fully present in each moment might somehow help the people around me.

Surely, moments like these are truly acts of giving. Pema Chodron interpreted "Dana" -- the Buddhist practice of Generosity -- this way:

 Giving is an act of letting go of holding on to yourself.

As we close out the year, we not only practice generosity but also letting go. The two are intertwined. With each passing year, we are able to see more clearly what we don't need, and we let go of these things. For me, this month has been around looking for ways to make my life simpler and less cluttered, looking for ways that I hope can truly help me to be more present for others. I reduced my teaching schedule, in part to free up more time to attend to other things that are more important to me at this point in my life, and also to give other yoga teachers opportunities to practice and experience the joys of teaching yoga.

Lastly, as this year winds down, one of Marianne Williamson's more famous quotes is resonating deeply with me right now. In A Return to Love, written in 1992, she writes:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not in just some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

If we truly want to help the world, and be more present and generous with others, one of the best things we can do is to be more authentically ourselves. As yoga and meditation practitioners, it is incumbent on us that we become more deeply in touch with our God-given gifts and let them shine -- for both our benefit and the benefit of all around us. 

As you let go of the old, and embrace the new, may you be more present, authentic, and free.

with much aloha,
paul keoni