It’s that time of year, when romance reigns supreme. Candlelit restaurant dinners, candy, cards, gifts, flowers. Endless expressions of love.
I’m all in favor of celebrating love, shouting aloud our passion and devotion to one another. I love romantic dinners, cards, flowers, presents. (Pass on the candy, please!) However, what I most treasure as a gift, not just on Valentine’s Day, but every day, is the gift of my beloved’s presence.
What does that word, presence, mean? At one level it simply means physical nearness. Sitting together watching TV or at a theater, walking along a beach, feeling the closeness of my beloved’s body and knowing that we are a unit, that we belong together. The tenderness of loving comfort that such nearness brings is often envied by those who dance alone. Yet for those who do have a partner, sometimes this endearing level of comfort allows us to mask and ignore an underlying, gnawing sense of separateness, of not really being known or touched at all. We find ourselves sacrificing ecstasy for contentment, relinquishing dreams of rapture for the comfortable stability of familiarity.
There are other levels of presence that can provide even greater joy, deeper intimacy and more nourishing spiritual bonding. Consciously or unconsciously, all humans crave this deeper level of presence. We yearn to be truly seen and heard. A caring and compassionate therapist or counselor often fulfills this need for many of us. Someone who listens to our emotional self-discovery, who focuses exclusively on us. When we stand before others in an AA meeting, the undeviating attention allows us to speak about ourselves honestly and from the depth of our being.
This power of being in the present moment is experienced in spiritual and wisdom circles. Drawing on ancient custom, we each speak in turn, passing a ‘talking stick’ (maybe better called a ‘listening stick’) that ensures that others in the circle are indeed listening to our words, our personal expressions of self. When we trust that we are being listened to, we can learn to drop our public face and reveal our inner soul.
Even alone, we can experience the power of revealing ourselves by imagining or sensing our spiritual guide, guardian angel or our own higher self. We can speak to them, and their willing presence, attentive and unwavering, will allow us to say what needs to be said. As the old cliché reminds us, when we share our pain with another, it lessens, and when we share our joy, it doubles.
And going deeper still, we can move beyond a presence that permits emotional disclosure to a level of exquisite presence that simply is. A level of presence that invites us to share our essence with another, to settle softly into our own beingness. The quiet peacefulness of a meditation group, a yoga or tai chi class, is due to this shared presence, as we each rest in our own sense of Self. No longer separated by our stories, we are joined by our mutual participation in the Oneness of an all-pervasive, ever-present intelligent energy.
What does all this have to do with Valentine’s Day? In a love relationship, we have at our side someone who loves us. Not a therapist, not a casual classmate or fellow workshop participant. A flesh and blood human being who has chosen, and is willing, to the best of their ability, to be close to us, to be intimate. While as individuals, we may walk, talk and experience life differently from one another, when we come into open presence with each other, all those differences slide away. Only the Oneness remains. It is here, in relationship, that we must learn to walk this path, to give presence instead of just presents.
How do we do that? When we approach our beloved with reverence, we touch the divine that lives in each of us. When we gaze upon our beloved with eyes that are open to our own soul, we see the spiritual nature that lies beneath our separateness. And when we breathe with our beloved, letting the breath move in and out of our bodies, mingling in the space between us, returning over and over again to the source of sacred breath deep within us, we stand naked in the mystery and joy of holy union. This is the gift of presence that we can share with our beloved!
Valentine’s Day is a reminder to celebrate, but every day is an opportunity to share presence with your beloved. Begin by adding a few extra seconds to each kiss, to each touch. Create pauses in your togetherness, make time for when there is nothing to do, nothing to say. Abide in the love that circulates between you. Ask for, and give, the time necessary to make this a purposeful, daily practice. Listen to one another, listen with your heart. Look at each other in your moments of passion. Recognize and appreciate that when you share your vital life force with another, a cellular transformation takes place that energizes you from the inside out. And, because we are all connected, your evolution contributes to the ongoing presence of love in our whole world. The giving and receiving of presence is truly a gift that keeps on giving.