Presence beyond Walls

We have spoken recently about being at home to ourselves and to one another. We spoke to of loneliness, its forms and challenges. I hope that this Christmas has not been too difficult for you and that you have had some meaningful contact with those you care about and who care about you.
What can prevent us from being present and at home to ourselves and to one another are the defensive walls we build around ourselves. Among these are what might be called the walls of deadness that can stifle the life inside us. In that situation , someone must see beyond these walls to the possibility of new life and call that forth in us. One example is the problem of isolation occasioned by illness, age, or other issues, readily made worse by the pervasive covid virus. Here it can require us or another to see that someone is more than the limitations that imprison them, and to reach caringly beyond them in whatever ways are presently possible. To do so requires that we discern that the sacred worth of a person–including ourselves–is rooted in who we are rather than what we have or do.
Sometimes we even put up walls to our friends, While true friends are able to pass through these walls, it may be advisable to respect these walls, these defences that they may need at one time or another, But we recognize that they are more than such walls. We tune into the person behind these walls and our caring reaches to that person. Sometimes we may help that person to feel, or another may make us feel, that in each other’s presence we do not need any walls, that we are a safe place for each other, because we are valued as who we are.
One reason we build walls around ourselves is because of our fears. Certainly our fears and how we might respond to them is topic of its own. Here we might just say that our experience of limits, weakness, and even wrong, might creates doubts in us about our own worth. It is perhaps this fear that we are of little value that most paralyses us. We need one another to affirm our worth as deeper, more enduring, and unassailable by anything or anyone.
I once suggested that around our core and sacred self are three walls: a wall of hurt, a wall of fear, and a wall of hostility. If we live inside of any of these walls, we tend to hurt ourselves and others. We are, in effect, homeless and lonely, because we are away from ourselves. The challenge is gradually, with one another’s help, to become more and more at home to our inmost self. There is a very striking line from a story by James Joyce. It reads: “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” It seems to mean being disconnected, being disconnected from feelings, thoughts, emotions, senses and everything about who we are, as well as from people and the world around us.
The Latin roots of the words “presence” and “absence” are instructive here. ”Presence” comes from the Latin words “prae” and “ens,” and means literally being there, being all there, being  with. “Absence” comes from the Latin words “ab” and”ens,” and means literally being away from, withdrawn or missing.
The positive challenge is to be there from our inmost centre and with all that we are, to ourselves and to another. To be present to ourselves is to be open to all that is within us. It is allowing ourselves to experience every nook and cranny of our being, every tendency, every memory, every action, so as to arrive beneath these to the home place, the sacred core or centre of who we are, beneath all of these. We perhaps best do this through times of gentle silence by ourselves or trusting and open conversation with another.
When we learn to be at home to ourselves, we can be at home to and for another. We do not have walls and fences and barriers that prevent their entry. We are able to provide an uncluttered space and a safe place for another to enter and to be. We offer a space of compassion around another person and we are open to who that person is, without an agenda, and without an agenda that seeks to adjust or mould them, to use them, to meet our alleged and surface needs. That openness to who another is includes an invitation to become who they are and can be.
Genuine presence to another is also an openness to let who that person is affect, modify, change, and even transform who we are. To be truly present to you, I must allow who you are to affect who I am. In effect, I open the doors of my soul to you in trust. The opposite is when I remain closed to who you are, refusing to be shaped by your presence, or else trying to invade your soul from behind the locked doors of my own. I then act from mistrust, and possibly even violate your trust.
In a wider sense, to be present is to be open to life itself, to experience life in all its obscurity, ambiguity, and complexity, and in its gift character and sacredness that is deeper than and encompasses all else. And if we sense that life is vaster and more mysterious than all of our present answers, then we will be open to listen to life, rather than try to shout (or shut) it down.
The basic form of friendship, and of all form of creative caring for another is presence. It is being with another. Built upon that, but never replacing it, are the particular gifts with a person is endowed and has developed with the help of caring others, as well as the concrete situation and circumstances within which we find ourselves. We respond to one another first of all with who we are, then in terms of our gifts, and then in terms of what is appropriate to the situation. Josef Pieper in his book, About Love, says that before and more than the qualities that another person may have, the basic experience of love is that it is good that the other person  is, and that it is good to be with that person.
In terms of the idea of presence, openness, to life itself, perhaps what is crucial is to follow our deepest longings while recognizing our limitations, to be true to our own inmost truth while receiving the deepest truth of others. Rather than try to fit others–and life–into our present level of thought, feeling, and action, we are challenged to remain ever open, with an openness to be transformed by life, and by the mystery at the heart of life.
May you find a peaceful home within yourself and in one another that allows your life to unfold from within freely with awareness and compassion for yourself and others,
Norman King, December 28, 2020