Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Presence as Distinct from Present

“Be present” is a common admonition these days. Eckhart Tolle became famous for his book The Power of Now, which is about being present in the here and now. The idea is to let go of our obsession with the past and future, neither of which actually exist in this moment.

I just read a twist on this concept that I really like. In the book The Spell of the Sensuous, author David Abram writes about the difference between ‘present’ and ‘presence.’  

In my mind, ‘being present’ meant that you somehow managed to step outside the flow of time. But as I read Mr. Abram’s discussion I realized that when you are ‘in the present’ you are, in fact, still in time. You are in this moment of ‘now,’ and then that now, and then that now.

Presence, on the other hand, is about just being. When you are in presence you are not aware of time at all. You are so involved in what you are doing that time becomes meaningless. Most of us have experienced this many times—those blissful moments of play when you lose yourself like a child to the game, or in lovemaking that envelops you in the sensuousness of your body, or while creating art—when you come out of that experience of presence hours may have passed and it feels like minutes.

This is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the experience of ‘Flow.’ (This is a link to his TED talk on Flow.)

As I thought about this, it seemed to me that ‘present’ has the feeling of a static state, while ‘presence’ is dynamic, is experience, is being.

Mr. Abram took this concept of presence from Martin Heidegger and his book Time and Being. This is a quote from Heidegger:
Obviously, time is not nothing. Accordingly, we maintain caution and say: there is time. We become still more cautious, and look carefully at that which shows itself as time, by looking ahead to Being in the sense of presence, the present. However, the present in the sense of presence differs so vastly from the present in the sense of the now…[T]he present as presence and everything which belongs to such a present would have to be called real time, even though there is nothing immediately about it of time as time is usually represented in the sense of a succession of a calculable sequence of nows.

Me in presence on yesterday's hike

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