Must be present to win

"The poet Rilke asks, Why are we here? Why do we have to be human? And he answers: '. . . because truly being here is so much; because everything here apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.' Everything living gives and receives according to its nature and its possibilities. What specifically is a human being designed to give—to others and to the earth itself? In a culture dominated by money and by the principle of personal gain, could there arise a wholly realistic way of giving and serving beyond the clichès of altruism and hidden fears for our own safety or the opinions of others? What could Rilke mean by speaking not just of our 'being here,' but of truly being here? Is there a quality of awareness that is itself something we receive as a gift, and is there a quality of awareness that we can give to our world without needing to take anything?" -Jacob Needleman, Money and the Meaning of Life, pp. xxi, 1991

Shopping at my local Trader Joe's last weekend, I caught a glimpse of a t-shirt that offered me the title of this journal entry:

Must be present to win

Now there is a useful re-minder, I thought to myself with a smile and a nod. I've no idea of the particular cause or context of the t-shirt slogan. It is, of course, a play on the all too familiar message, "need not be present to win," embedded in the inescapable daily barrage of advertisements, promotions and giveaways that fill our air waves, television screens, and mailboxes (both electronic and snail).

Well, you may not need to be present to win that classic Stratocaster with whammy bar, the six-piece stainless steel fondue set, or the 5-night / 6-day all inclusive Vegas vacation, but when it comes

to recognizing the sublime in everyday experience;
to walking in new shoes and creating new experiences;
to understanding our role in the emergence of an unfolding future;
to learning and making meaning of the world ...
for these, present we must be.

Merriam-Webster defines presence as "the bearing, carriage, or air of a person" and "something (as a spirit) felt or believed to be present." The Latin root, praesent, means to "be at hand," implying an intimate closeness and contact ... being in touch ... able to feel and be felt by what or whomever we are present with. During a recent design session with a community of Sebastopolians, we asked the group to identify essential characteristics of their community if it was to make the phase transition they had spent the morning imagining. This quality of presence—of being both physically and spiritually felt—was not only identified, it was emphasized, underlined and punctuated for added importance.

Being present—with ourselves, our communities, our worlds—is prerequisite to approaching the "quality of awareness" that pulls forth authenticity, that uncovers hidden assumptions, and that enables us to see the patterns that connect us to each other and the natural world.

Finally, I am reminded of the tagline to one of my favorite movies and, actually, a great film about presence, Being There:

"Getting there is half the fun. Being there is all of it."