Presence lifts us above the sphere of particularities and separateness into a world of integral wholeness. It is always is experienced as a unitary whole. Think, for example, about the experience of sitting on the top of a hill, far from the polluting lights of a city, gazing at a dark, starry sky. Unless you are an astronomy buff, your experience will not likely be one of thought and analysis but will be one of singular, holistic absorption. You will experience the presence of the starry sky, not your thoughts about it.
The more pure and uncontaminated the presence, the more it is experienced as a whole. The power of presence seems to simply gather up all the separate and isolated parts that normally are our focus and wrap itself within a harmonious whole. Complexity is enclosed within a shroud of singularity and wholeness.
Often this sense of wholeness brings with it a surprising sense of increased vividness to everything being experienced – possibly a sense of being more present to your experience, even to yourself. Sometimes this includes a sense of being at one within your self. Occasionally, this sense of oneness may even include the person who offers the presence (or others who share it), possibly even involving a sense of oneness with everything that is. Frequently it produces a sense of intimacy that strains the usual subject-object duality. Such an experience might also leave you in awe before the mystery of life. And because it frequently leaves you feeling more whole and integrated, it often feels like an experience of standing on sacred ground.
This is reason the language of presence is so frequently on the tongue of mystics. This is how the saints feel in relation to God, and how they experience God with them. It is the experience of totality and union in the midst of shattering fragmentation and separateness. It offers fleeting moments of knowing that stand in stark contrast to what our senses tell us so much of the rest of the time.
And this is also why presence has such transformational potential. This transformational potency is present in each act of presence but is particularly present in the encounter of two or more people who are present to each other. John O’Donohue describes such moments of presence as a sacrament – a visible sign of invisible grace. The source of the grace – or, if you will, the gift – is the Transcendent Presence that is mediated by more immanent forms of presence. Although that source may be invisible (sometimes even beyond belief) and the presence ephemeral, the gifts of the encounter can be readily seen by anyone who has eyes to see.
Adapted from my forthcoming book Presence and Encounter
(Brazos Press – September, 2014) ©Dr. David G. Benner
photo by Jack Low/Tumblr