Why Presence Matters

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by Sandrine Harris

Coming home to yourself is a daily process of awakening. Presence is an unfolding practice that involves engaging your whole self — through the flow of sensory experience, movement in the body, and the internal landscape of the mind and heart. Through presence, we discover that we need not add anything to our experience. We learn that we can simply be, and that this is enough.

Using tools from awareness practices like the Feldenkrais Method® and mindfulness meditation, we learn the beauty of engaging with life in a different way. When we create more space for the n-o-w, we are carving out more space to be well, to think more clearly, to tune into our bodies, and to relate to others. With embodied practices, we find delight in paying attention to the breath, in sensing our toes. We get curious about watching our minds — non-judgmentally. We allow ourselves to be in the deep knowing that we must give ourselves over to ourselves, and surrender our worries around goals, time pressures, or financial woes, in favor of living fully in this moment.

Several recent studies have looked at rates of distraction (which we can think of as lack of presence) and the feelings of happiness, contentment or connectedness to others. It seems the more distracted and not-in-the-moment we are, the more difficult it is for us to feel the positive emotions and to cultivate well-being.

I am continually amazed at how easily we can become “un-present”: pulled into past experiences or future worries. Like swirling whirlpools, our minds continuously flow from one place to another, and we tend to cyclically revisit the unpleasant parts too. However, this experience of being “un-present” is highly instructive. When meditation students tell me they are unable to be fully present (because they struggle to keep their focused attention on one thing, for example), I remind them of the excruciating focus we hold the capacity for when fixating on memories involving shame, anxiety or conflict, or worry about a future event. We tend to review difficult feelings with the utmost cyclical precision. And this is good news.

The attention skill at the center of these processes is the key to shifting from a state of “un-present” to present. What if we bring this same sort of clarity of attention and purity of focus into the present moment? This means we can also make space for experiencing the beauty of positive states, for appreciating the ephemeral moments, and for understanding our interconnectedness. We have this capacity, and when we learn to tune in with a different orientation, we begin the process of awakening and healing.

This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. And when we’re here, we can begin to sense the important things more clearly, and the less important things begin to take up less space. We untangle the wires, and sort the sock drawer. We do not ignore our past or future, or pretend any difficulties are different from what they are (though sometimes our perspective on them changes a great deal through mindful practice), but there is something more: ourselves. Outside of our jobs, our self-identification, our long-held stories, and our defined roles, we’re also the same as ever: human beings, with a beating heart, an imagination, and the ability to engage and connect with meaning.

Presence is possible, and it is a gift. Self-care, healing, choice, and connection all happen through awakening into the experience of life, in our minds and bodies, in this present moment.


Sandrine Harris is a movement educator and mindfulness facilitator who leads retreats at Copper Beech Institute and does outreach on the Institute’s behalf. She is certified in diverse modalities including the Feldenkrais Method®, mindfulness in education, health counseling, and several forms of movement and meditative practice. Sandrine will be offering a multi-day experience of awakening practices in her retreat, Embodying Presence: The Practice of Awakening at Copper Beech Institute on September 19–21, 2017.


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