I write to you on this warm and humid, late summer afternoon here in Kansas City. I recently made the slow and steady 3 day/2000 mile journey along the I-80 from California, through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska and down through Missouri into KC. The drive was long, and at times felt endless, and by the time I arrived my butt hurt like you wouldn't believe. There were times on the long stretches of highway through WY and NE that I often wondered, almost hearing that impatient 10 year old voice in my mind, "am I there yet?" And then I would pass by a mileage sign only to see that I still had 452 miles to Lincoln, and from there still another several hours to KC. But I kept my eye on the road and my hands on the wheel, as present and patiently as possible.
In a meditation session that I facilitated last Monday morning, I shared with the fellow yogis that until last weekend, Nebraska had only ever been conceptual for me. It had only existed in movies and John Cougar Mellencamp songs about the heartland. So when I pulled up to the Motel 6 in the little town of North Platte and was greeted by a young girl, who spoke with a slight twang, working the late night shift, I had all kinds of ideas of what Nebraska was all about. Small town. Country folk. Different people than I relate to. Presidential campaign signs supporting a candidate that I don't support. You can imagine where this goes. Because, I suspect, if your mind is anything like my own (and frankly, like any other human mind on the planet), it judges. Even while I know I am judging, and I attempt to bring awareness to the judging, I am still judging. Because this is what the mind does. (But remember judging itself isn't the problem, how we relate to the judging, or what we do with the judgements is. If we can see a judgement and let it go, no problem. But if we believe those judgments and let those beliefs run amok causing harm to ourselves or others, well, then we have a problem).
So the next morning, 60 miles or so outside of North Platte, tired and groggy from not sleeping well on the Motel 6 mattress, knowing I still had 6 hours of butt hurting driving ahead of me, I pulled into a Pilot Flying-J truck stop in the middle of nowhere to get gas. After getting a "here, let me help you honey" from trucker who grabbed the diesel nozzle right out of my hand, and pumped every one of my 14 gallons for me, I went inside to get a snack. Waiting in line at the cash register, while country music blared in the background and 50% of the gas and snack buyers were not wearing masks, I had some more ideas floating through my mind about what Nebraska folks were like. I was tired. Cranky. Hungry. My mind wasn't at it's best. But that is no excuse... I was judging. Until Loretta at the cash register -whose gravely drawl told anyone who could hear her voice the likely story of a lifetime of smoking- started chatting with Bob in line behind me, a disheveled middle aged guy with a toothy grin, who looked like he had been shoveling muck all morning. "Hey Bob, good to see you. Did you know your mom came over the other day. She brought some tools over, and it was really good to see her..." Bob and Loretta carried on about farm tools and his mom in the kindest, neighborly way, signaling that universal familiarity among people who share community, connection and even family. And it was then, in my tired state, that something in me shifted out of judgement into presence. In that moment, I felt briefly, not just the connection between Bob and Loretta, but my connection to them (and even the trucker too). Because you know, I have a mom too, and even a shovel and a pitch fork in my garden shed, and here we all were, three people among many others at a truck stop in Nebraska, standing there in our humanness. And what I saw more deeply within this was that in the same way that the I-80 is this long asphalt through-line connecting me to the many people in the many towns along the way, PRESENCE is the through-line that connects me to others, however "different" from them I might be.
And then it struck me. Inherent in Presence, is Patience. The kind of patience that is steeped in grace. The kind of patience that is generous and accepting of things just as they are. And this feels particularly apropos as we enter into election season, against the backdrop of a pandemic, fires and injustice against our fellow humans. At times like this it can be so easy to lose patience with ourselves. With others. With circumstances. It can be so easy, for me at least, to lose perspective, to lose sight of the fact that while there are indeed some very big differences between people, communities and cultures, we are in essence, very much the same. Loretta, me and Bob. The same. You and the people who live next door to you but have different election candidate signs in their front yard. The same. Your family and families who live and love in different ways than you do. The same. Different thoughts. Different ideas. Different values. But, we are the same. The through-line being our humanity, the awareness of which arises more fully when we are present.
I know when I am not present I can easily become internally divided, caught up in beliefs about who is right (me) and who is wrong (others who don't share my values and beliefs). It can be so easy, however subtly, to want to find fault or identify with beliefs that only further reinforce suffering and more division. I can get caught up in ideas about how things should or shouldn't be, things over which I ultimately have no control. And I think we can all agree, right now there is SO MUCH over which none of us have any control. Often, in the wake of this I become impatient, wanting people, places and and things to change or be different than they are. When I am not present I become impatient with the lawful process of life.
So what happens, even in the face of massive tragedy (such as in the case of the California fires), or injustice (such as in the case of the recent shooting of Jacob Blake), or uncertainty (as in the case of the pandemic and upcoming elections), if we allow ourselves to be fully present? What happens to the impatience when we allow ourselves to connect with the grief or discomfort that may exist beneath it? With PRESENCE as the through-line of my experience, the impatience often transforms into compassion and understanding. It allows me to see more fully how much the same we all are, and how deserving each of us are of grace.
So my invitation to each of you in the coming weeks is to explore this through-line of presence in your own life. The invitation is to be curious about how this connects you to others, even those who seem different from you, and to see how this opening of the mind grows a wise and patient heart.
To support this exploration of presence and patience I am offering a series of upcoming events: