On Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. (4th Thursday of November), Father Richard Rohr wrote in his daily meditation, “Presence is the one thing necesssary to attain wisdom, and in many ways, it is the hardest thing of all.” Through our recent Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I spent a lot of time reflecting on how to be fully present with all that is happening in my work, in my country, and in the world, yet at the same time, not take it on as if it were mine alone to solve, to carry, or to care for. Perhaps you can relate. How to “be with” what is happening without becoming overwhelmed by it.
In Transformational Presence, we speak a lot about “holding space,” both for ourselves and for those we serve. We practice ways of being fully engaged in what is happening without getting entangled in the feelings and emotions of the people involved, including our own. It’s been said that we teach what it is that we need to learn. And so here is where I find my current challenge.
As I read the news each day and learn that yet another government program that was designed to protect the common good of all is now being dismantled or challenged – as I learn about yet another atrocity being committed against human beings or the natural world – as I experience institutions that have been such a vital part of my life now breaking apart – so many thoughts, feelings, and emotions come to the surface. What do I do with that information? Where do I put my feelings so that I can go on with my day? How can I be present with what is happening without letting it overwhelm me?
Even when some part of me can see a bigger picture and understand that all of these things are a part of the “Great Breaking Open” that I write about in my new book, what do I do with the parts of me that are afraid or worried or grieving the loss of something that I thought would always be there?
We humans are complex beings – we have the capacity to grasp a bigger reality, yet feel the pain or fear of loss at the same time. That capacity can create its own inner struggle. Part of us can grasp the big picture while other parts are struggling to catch up to that more expanded awareness and understanding. What do we do with this struggle? How do we reconcile this?
Back to Richard Rohr: “Presence is the one thing necesssary to attain wisdom…Wisdom is not the gathering of more facts and information. Wisdom is a way of seeing and knowing in a new way.” Cynthia Bourgeault, Father Rohr’s colleague at the Center for Action and Contemplation says that it’s not about knowing more, but knowing with more of you.
Father Rohr continues, “Just try to keep your heart open and soft, your mind receptive without division or resistance, and your body aware of where it is and its deepest level of feeling. Presence is when all three centers are awake at the same time!”
In Transformational Presence, working with these three aspects of our awareness is one of our core practices. We call them the Three Intelligences: head or intellect, belly or emotion, and heart or truth. Our practice is to listen to all three and bring them into dialogue with one another.
My initial introduction to these Three Intelligences came through studying ancient wisdom practices. Now, neuroscience confirms their role in our awareness, experience, and understanding of all that is happening around us and within us.
Checking in with all Three Intelligences usually puts me in touch with the whole of my experience – multiple layers – not just the feeling inside that is grabbing my attention in that moment. For example, I can feel and sense the part of me that is caught up in what is happening; I can sense another part of me that may be afraid, grieving, overwhelmed, or anxious; and I become aware of yet another part of me that senses a bigger picture, has clarity, and is truly OK in that moment.
In my experience, my mind or intellect is often telling a big story based on something from my past and/or an assumption or anticipation about the future. My body, on the other hand, may be caught up in the emotional, and often visceral, feeling of the moment. At the same time, my heart may be connecting me to a greater wisdom that transcends the momentary experience of my intellect and body.
At other times, I may be surprised that it is the mind or the body that has the greatest clarity. Our inner wisdom technology can work in unexpected ways. So it’s important to be aware of all three and open for discovery.
While I usually expect the greatest clarity to come from my heart, sometimes my heart wisdom is hidden behind personal attachments. And this is perhaps the most challenging awareness to recognize because we can be blind to our own hidden agendas, desires, or perceived needs.
Those attachments are neither right or wrong, good or bad. They are just information. They have stories to tell, and within those stories lie hidden perceptions, desires, or fears.
When I’m willing to acknowledge those hidden feelings – to bring them out into the light – they begin to soften. And then the wisdom that they have been hiding starts to shine through. It may not happen right away, yet the more I practice simply being present with what is happening as well as with everything I am thinking and feeling about it, the faster the attachments fall way, and the wisdom comes shining through.
So back to those questions: What do I do with all of the feelings that come up in response to what is happening around me? Where do I put them? How do I carry on? What do I do with the parts of me that are afraid or worried or angry or grieving?
First, as best I can in the moment, I let them all be there. I fully admit that this is easier said than done! As best I can, I listen to all three intelligences and help them start talking with each other. If I am patient and keep the inner dialogue going, they usually start working it out. Somehow, I find my way forward. I don’t always know how – it just happens. And in a way, those questions soon become irrelevant. I don’t have answers, yet somehow finding answers is no longer important. As my relationship to the situation softens, a greater wisdom shines through.
It’s a practice. I don’t claim to have mastered this. At the moment, I feel very much like “a work in progress.” I’m not finished yet. But then neither is my life. And therefore, neither is my learning. Understanding and accepting that I’m still learning helps me a lot.
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