Active presence

I love the term “radical presence” because it feels radical to jump the barrier of overwhelming emotion to land face-to-face with the moment and be able to look straight at it regardless. However, in practical terms it’s the opposite of radical — it’s conservative in the classic sense, because it puts us back into the realm of what’s demonstrably real and solid.

Therefore, conservative presence is the same as radical presence.

What a wonderful object lesson in putting political branding aside.

However, for the sake of clarity, I think I’ll start calling it “active presence”, as it usually takes an act of will.

When I was working as a nurse, an important part of the job was teaching people what they needed to know in order to go on better: dress the wounds, improve activity, improve nutrition, manage impaired systems (immunity, pain, respiratory), take care of relevant organs (heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys, gut, brain) and so on.

I’m sorry to say I was too idealistic at first and found myself being scoldy. The word “should” showed up a lot; worse still, “shouldn’t.” Argh! Words I’d love to take back!

I finally learned the key principle of teaching & training around life skills, especially primal ones like eating/drinking/moving: people have to start from where they are, not from where anyone, including them, thinks they should (ugh) be. The ideal is not relevant, only the real.

The first step, therefore, is to find out what that reality is, no matter how egregious. Their best hope of improvement is almost always in small, manageable steps, starting right from their current reality.

This led me to my first understanding of active presence: change has to start from this eating habit, this activity level, this degree of self management. No others exist yet! Trying to pretend they do only builds castles in the air.

However, I’ve seen patients of mine go, for example, from couch potatoes with snack-stocked shops and triple-bypass heart attacks to organic-grocery-owning half-marathon runners in a couple of years, by starting with tiny stepwise improvements: cardiac rehab class, to slow walks, and on up from there.

woman walking up beach, looking totally at home in her skin.

There are no guarantees (it’s easy to joke about people with great life habits getting hit by a bus) but hydration, nutrition, fresh air, and exercise tend to pay off tremendously– usually after a clunky adjustment period, as body and mind lurch through the initial changes.

Of course, the time that new habits take is going to pass anyway. Would you rather be reaping rewards at the end of it, or find yourself back in the rut that put you into medical care?

I’ve said exactly that to many people, with honest attention. This isn’t a trick question, nor is it an occasion for smarm. It’s a key question we all have to ask ourselves periodically throughout our lives, in one way or another. Everyone has the right to contemplate and answer that question honestly, even if the real reaponse is, “I like my habits/my rut, I see the trajectory, I know where it will take me, and I accept that probable outcome with open eyes.” I’ve had people say that, in tones varying from sweet concern for my feelings to roaring defiance. It’s all okay; it’s their call. I’d ask if they’re interested in cushioning their fall or minimizing damage to others, tailor suggestions accordingly, and then call their physician to adjust expectations and ask about/offer any ideas for mitigation over improvement. (It was never a total surprise to their doctors.)

As a patient, I have made — and continue making — complex changes in order to stay as well and functional as possible. I’m persistent like that. To me, being incapacitated is intolerable. I’d rather have better options.

“When you’re alive, anything is possible. It’s being dead that seriously limits your options.”
– Jodi Taylor

Active presence puts me on ground firm enough to step off from, and actually get somewhere. I’ve been living with a strong inward nudge to simplify, focus, and hurry up, because I don’t have much time left. It may be fallacious (I hope so), my subconscious working to override my “completion anxiety” about larger works. Given the accuracy rate of these deep, strong inward messages up to now, I’d be a complete idiot to ignore it. So, I’m simplifying, focusing, putting my ego (which is where this anxiety resides) off to one side, and buckling down on building the structure of my legacy in my head. I’ll discuss that more when there’s some output.

Dying is horrible. I don’t want to do that, ever. I’ve started to, a couple of times, and I’ve seen far too many loved ones go, especially those with these diseases. No words, no words for it… That said: Being out of this relentless, grinding circus of delicately-balanced tolerability, with horrific and likely further life-limiting consequences for certain mistakes? Really looking forward to being done with it! There will come a time — at some point, for me as for anyone — which will suck, and shortly after that, I’m absolutely certain there’ll be an end to this (extremely well-managed) biological terror and the unimaginably cruel pain that drives it.

I have this stubborn inner nudge that it’s not far off for me personally. That’s definitely NOT my choice, it’s the circumstance I find myself in. Without having wanted or chosen it, I somehow find acknowledging it to be hugely freeing!

That is intensely weird, I know. Also uncomfortable and maybe bitter and sad.

But that’s what is true for me, right here and right now.

From here, and only from this point in my often tortuous reality, can I move on.

I accept that.

Here I am.

Time for the next little step. Who knows where it’ll take me in the long run?

Let’s find out.

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