Presence exercises like the one in my last blog are great and can really help when we have the time to sit and be quiet with ourselves. What happens if we don’t have that time? What if emotions are high and because of them, you can’t see that you are not present? Being not present shows up in things like reaching for a beer or wine, zoning in on your phone and scrolling away an hour or more, binge watching your favorite show. None of these things are really that terrible unless used as a way to distract and not feel what is currently going on. How often do you tap into your phone when someone starts talking about something you would rather not? How many times have you felt stressed and decided to shut off with 4 or 5 hours of your not so favorite show on Netflix? Have you needed to retire to your “happy place” to bang on shit? Or just needed to take the edge off with whatever choice of self medication is available? These are activities that take us away from our current feelings and in the end, only prolong the inevitable. At some point we must face the things that continually come up and learn to feel them. Otherwise, they rot us from the inside out and lead to things like divorce, dui’s, poor life choices and loss of friendships.
The good news is, there is a way to be able to feel these things and have them not have such an impact. This allows us to be present with the current tough situations and not have to fade into some sort of disassociation or unhealthy coping mechanism. It is a preemptive strike, it is the helpful process behind the toxic masculinity phrase “Just Be A Man!, Suck it Up!”
This right of passage of being a man, has taken a terrible turn for the worse. The idea that we should not feel pain or emotion is absurd. We are human and we feel things. The actual process is not about not feeling or not expressing. The process is about feeling things often that are uncomfortable, so that when the big things do come up, we can be better prepared to stay present with it and feel it, instead of shutting down or running to our coping mechanisms. This process is called Tempering.
When a sword or armor is tempered, it is repeatedly placed in the fire for short periods of time. This process heats and cools the metal over and over again making the sword stronger, more durable and able to withstand much more pressure. Life continually tempers us in many ways. When we take ourselves out of presence, we are actually doing the opposite of tempering. Think about how many things in your life you do for the desire of being comfortable or not feeling. Maybe it’s grabbing that cup of coffee first thing in the morning before anything else. Maybe it’s lazing around all day Saturday or Sunday watching football. It could be any number of things. Now, what do you do on a regular basis that is uncomfortable? Do you do these things from conscious awareness or do these uncomfortable things just show up and piss you off?
Part of growing up is maturing and getting stronger. In all ways. What if you could choose the things you do that make you stronger. I am not talking about just going to the gym and lifting weights, going through the motions because you “gotta stay healthy.”. (although that is a great idea). I am talking about the things that make us tougher, more resilient, more able to handle the hard shit that shows up. I am talking about simple disciplines that are always uncomfortable and make other tasks seem easy. Here is a brief list of things you can do that won’t kill you, that are uncomfortable, and can make some of the more challenging aspects of life seem easier:
Taking cold showers, everyday.
Qi Gong-Stand Like a tree meditation
Training toward a goal you have never achieved
Find an activity you will repeatedly fail or will always be uncomfortable. I personally go to the bouldering gym 2 to 3 times a week and always take on routes I have no business doing. I fall. Repeatedly. It is humbling, and every time I learn about getting up, swallowing my pride and trying again. It also makes me stronger/tougher in every way. I know many men who toughen and humble themselves by practicing Jujitsu or road biking. The thing that all of these practices have in common, is that they all put you into a physically uncomfortable or challenging place that you get to choose how much you can take.
You must be conscious about how you do these things though. Go about them with honor to yourself. If you have never practiced Qi Gong, don’t expect to stand still for an hour. Start with five minutes. We must slowly and methodically temper ourselves by pushing just slightly past our comfort zone. If we push too far over our edge, we will fall on our face. I for one am sick of falling on my face. With each practice and over time we gain clarity, strength and the ability to allow many things to roll off of our shoulders that used to shut us down or fire one of our triggers. That does not mean we don’t feel these things; it means we are able to be fully present with them, feel them, and move on anyways.
So what are you choosing today to use as your tempering? I would hate for you to continue losing it.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned, and continue to learn, is that when we grow and get past our “stuff,” it is always preceded with a moment of realization of misplaced judgement. Realizing that something we believed about our life or self is, in fact, wrong. These realizations come in moments of presence with our pain in that we have decided there must be some other way than to continue the current fight, (whatever it may be). Presence with our self and situations always leads to openings. And, it is not always easy. It requires us setting down our ego projections and looking at things from multiple perspectives, understanding that our experiences have dirtied our perspectives. We must use our presence to clean our filters. There is a great parable for this I share with clients, I honestly don’t remember where I heard it, otherwise I would give credit, (I googled it and couldn’t find anything, so I will take the credit!). It goes a little something like this:
A young couple move into a new house. The first morning they are sitting, eating breakfast and the wife notices that the neighbor is putting out her white sheets to be dried on the line. As she watches, she notices that the sheets are very dirty. She says to her husband, “Can you believe this woman, hanging out her sheets like that? She mustn’t think that is clean. I can’t believe someone would consider that clean, she really should do a better job of cleaning her sheets, she must keep an awful home.”
This goes on for a few weeks as they get settled in their new home. Every Saturday morning the neighbor puts out her disgustingly dirty sheets to dry. All of a sudden after 4 weeks or so, they sit down to breakfast and the wife notices that the neighbor’s sheets are now brilliant white! She says to her husband, “look at that! She must’ve gotten all new sheets!” The husband says, “No that’s not it, I washed the windows yesterday!”
This parable has worked on my mind for years. Everytime I come to a snap decision or judgement about something, I consider if my windows or filters are dirty in some way. I have a very poignant real life example of this exact thing playing out in my life that I am not proud of, but am very glad I was able to see the new perspective.
My wife and I had been dating for about a year and we decided to move in together. It was very exciting and fun, and we also both brought some baggage with us. That first year of living together can be a challenge as you learn each other’s routines and get to know each other more. Of course, we had some arguments. When I get angry and charged up, I pace around or do the dishes. There were several times when things would get heated, and as I was pacing around she would follow me, and if I went into the bedroom, she would close the door and stand in front of it. This would trigger something in me that I can only explain as the fear of being chased by a tiger. All I wanted was to get the fuck out of that room and she was the thing blocking that. In my mind, I made her the bad guy, the abuser, the problem with the world. None of which was true. You see, I grew up in a home and communities in which things that happened when a door was closed were not safe. This situation triggered a fear response in me that caused me to project misplaced judgement on my wife. To give some more perspective, my wife grew up in a home that when emotions were high and arguments happened, the people involved would go to the bedroom, close the door and work it out in a safe manner. This is what she was trying to recreate for us by following me into the room and closing the door. So when I would lash out against this, she and I both would escalate. I wanted safety, she wanted to resolve. Neither of us could see through our own filters at what the actual situation was.
This happened a few times before our couples therapist helped us see what was actually happening; how our past experiences were driving our current motivations and perspectives. We were essentially operating from the past. We still argue on occasion, but we do a much better job of not escalating because we understand how these filters operate on us and most of the time we keep them clean. It requires presence in the moment to be aware of our filters and “clean” them.
So what does it mean to be present in the moment? It is about letting go of any past ideas that are clouding your current situation. Dealing with anxiety for much of my life has taught me many tools to know that I am safe and present in any situation. One of the easiest things to do is feel your breath. If you are breathing, everything is okay. It is very rare that we question our presence when we are truly in a dangerous or traumatizing situation. If you’re running from a tiger, you’re not thinking about it, you’re just running! Similarly, if you’re questioning your presence and awareness, you’re capable of grounding and pulling yourself into the moment.
Grounding into your body is the best way to focus on the here and now. You can’t feel your body on the couch tomorrow, you can’t hear the crickets last night, you can’t breathe ten minutes from now. You can only do these things now. When you feel yourself in the moment, it helps to realize how your thoughts take you out of the present moment.
A simple grounding exercise I like to use:
Sit in a comfy chair or lay down.
Close your eyes.
Take deep belly breaths.
Feel the parts of your body supported by the chair or floor.
With each exhale, allow your body to relax more into the support of the floor.
What do you hear?
What do you smell?
What is the temperature like?
Continue to breath and feel.
This simple exercise can be done daily or whenever you think about it. It is about tuning in to your senses and emotions in the now and allowing them to be.
Throughout our life and awakenings we experience many points when a certain decision changes the course of everything. These decisions are driven by questions that we ask ourselves. The right question drives the motivation and focus farther than we can imagine. This process involves quieting the mind, asking for what direction you want from your heart and letting the intention go. The hardest part is trusting that something out there has your back and wants you to succeed and you can’t actually screw it up. For the first few years of my business, I would wake up every morning and ask the question, “What can I do to get more clients today?” And then I would wait for inspiration or motivation to move me in that direction. Some days there was not much. Maybe I would send an email or reach out to a potential referral partner. But on occasion some kind of miracle would happen.
One such time, I remember like it was yesterday. I was having a rough week, one of those weeks where you just want to quit everything. I was 4 or 5 months into running my massage business. I was wondering: how am I going to cover rent for the office, am I doing the right thing following this entrepreneur path, who am I to think I could make this business work? But I got up that morning and asked the question. “What can I do today to get more clients?”
At lunch time I decided to go get a burrito. Unfortunately, there was some construction and a detour, and my time was running out, so I ended up at a grocery store. Not where I wanted to get lunch. Honestly, I was pretty frustrated with the traffic, the fact I couldn’t get my burrito, and I was not really looking forward to having a cold sandwich from the grocery store. So there I am, standing in line waiting to check out, pretty aggravated, and the gentleman in front of me turns and says “Hey Nate!” He is a client of mine from my previous job who I lost contact with. We have a short conversation about my business and location and somehow I actually have business cards on me. He tells me he will be in touch. Within a month, he booked. But that is not the miracle. This client owned a sizable business with a partner and two managers and they decided to have the company pay for massages for each of them, twice a month. This was just the boost of confidence I needed to keep going and the income from their eight massages a month covered my rent, exactly. I could not have planned a better outcome or even thought that a stupid detour could actually be in my favor and put me exactly where I needed to be for the questions and intentions I was setting. The set up has changed over the years with these clients, but some of them are still regulars, great referral sources, and I am grateful for them everyday.
Since this occurrence, I have had many other seemingly coincidental experiences of being in the exact right place at the right time. The questions have transformed and I still ask many everyday. The answers that come are always better than what I can expect when I trust that the intention comes from my heart. And everytime I am stuck in traffic or have to take a detour, I wonder what new miracle is heading my way.
Some other questions I use regularly are:
How can I be more kind today?
What does my business want from me today?
How can I show up more in this situation?
What strength am I not aware of that can solve this problem I am facing?
What energy can I embody to serve this client in their and my highest good today?
What can I receive from this situation?
What am I not seeing right now?
Who wants to show up for me today?
How can I be more present right now?
How can I listen to my inner guidance even more?
Any question you ask from your heart with an open ended answer will get the energy moving and start leading you in that direction, whether it feels like it or not. Trust that you are exactly where you need to be for that intention to play out. We can’t control the outcomes of these things, only set our trajectory and be willing to be present enough to pay attention to how it is showing up for us.
Nate Ewert, RMT. Owner of Somatic Synergies Integrated Bodywork and Intentional Path Wellness; Founder of Denver Hiking Club.