Everything and everyone has presence. Just think of your experience of things and people when you step back of your thoughts about them. Think, for example, of your home. It communicates something about itself that is there to be noticed by anyone who enters it with awareness. Or think of people you regularly encounter and notice the presence they emanate – not simply their behavior or their personality but the aura they give off.
Martin Heidegger said that being is presence. Whatever else that this means it suggests that in some way presence is a basic property of simply being. Everything that exists has presence by virtue of its being.
Being is more straightforward for rocks, trees and black holes than it is for humans. Inanimate objects are never tempted by false ways of being. They are aligned within their being and consequently, their presence is less ambiguous. This is also true for non-human living beings – such as, for example, animals and trees – all of which remain closer to their nature than is true for most humans. Consequently, their presence is also more pure and singular.
For humans, living our truth is much more of a challenge. First, we are profoundly alienated from our being. We forget what it is to stand in awe of being itself, and of our being in particular. We are lost in doing and tempted to believe that there is nothing more to us than this. But this separation from our being also reflects our separation from Being itself. At the core of our soul is an ache that is only answered in knowing both our being and the Ground of Being. But that ache is easily ignored and misinterpreted and consequently we seldom are aware of this most fundamental level of our alienation.
A second way in which living the truth of our being is more complicated for humans than non-humans arises from the fact that humans alone have the capacity to create false ways of being. As children we learn to try on various identities as we attempt to discover a satisfactory way of being in the world. Even though we usually lose awareness of doing this after adolescence or early adulthood, we continue to try and create our self through the first half of life. But the self we create is a persona – a mixture of the truth of our being and the fictions we spin as we attempt to create a self in the image of some inner fantasy. The consequence of this is that our way of being in the world is so false and unnatural that our presence is thoroughly ambiguous. It is no wonder that we find the presence of most people so clouded as to be not worth noticing. And it is no wonder that a truly unclouded presence is so luminous and so compellingly noteworthy!
Adapted from my forthcoming book Presence and Encounter
(Brazos Press – September, 2014) ©Dr. David G. Benner
photo by Jack Low/Tumblr