Entering the State of Presence Through Beauty

Light and air are different in Ireland. Shifting clouds and the low angle of the sun against the landscape create an atmosphere filled with magic. On a drive through the far west, Linda and I break over a rise and are caught by a spectacular view where light, air and rugged coast join together to amaze. We stop, wordless, to watch.

The sun’s shallow light illuminates a fog above the whitecaps. As each wave hits the rocks, it throws out a spray that mingles with the mist. For a moment, all the parts cohere. Light and air become one thing moving over the water, absorbing the black rocks and green fields. The light emanates from everywhere with no discernable source. The air breathes, exhaling wet and heavy with each breaking wave. 

I am lost in the scene. I feel expanded, lighter, more real, remembering my place in a larger scheme. Taking in this impossible moment, this extravagant beauty, I am changed.

We drive to a small town and enter a shop where two women talk intensely about an outrageous neighbor. We browse, pretending not to listen, but one of the women turns to us and we are drawn into the conversation. The Irish have a way of welcoming strangers into their social banter.

Our conversation drifts over various topics, including family squabbles, wildfires, climate change, American politics, and general worries about the state of the world. The collective stress level in the room slowly rises. I offer a comment that I often make to myself when I feel overwhelmed by worry, “In a hundred years, this will all matter less.” 

My comment is not intended to dismiss the disturbing issues we’ve been discussing. Our concerns are real and cause understandable distress. We must acknowledge there is genuine pain in the world, and we are morally bound to meet it with empathy and action.

But it’s also true our worries can loom so large they distort our perception. Pain and trouble are necessary parts of life. Coping well requires that we engage all aspects of ourselves:  our capacities for anger and grief, for humor and hope, for reason and action. And above all, for perspective. The triumphs and follies of our days are significant, but later, we will see them in a different light.

One of the women turns to me and says, “You have a calm demeanor. It’s very reassuring.” This surprises me. I had been actively engaged in our conversation, voicing my opinions with vigor. I didn’t feel particularly calm. 

I think my appearance of calm was an aspect of presence, an openness to meeting life as it is in the moment, surrendering to what is there. Perhaps I was still open from my experience of light and air at the coast. I had thought that was a private moment involving only me, the sea, and the sky. But its power rippled out to affect others and calm our worries.

What if I could enter the state of presence more often? I think of the positive effects it would it have on me and those around me: a sense of calm, a release of tension, an awakening to beauty and the gift of life.

Light and air are not different only in Ireland. Presence is a state that is always available, all it takes is a shift in my awareness. Having a regular contemplative practice cultivates this awareness. The demands and frustrations of work, family and daily living exert a steady pull on my attention. My practice gives me a place I can ground in the midst of those pressures.

The more often I strengthen that ground, the more I am able to surrender to the moment, this moment, right here, and fall into a state of presence.

Photo by Alex Grodkiewicz on Unsplash

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