Looking to 2023: Presence and Ease

As I'm looking to 2023 and what I want the next year to be like, two words keep coming to mind: presence and ease. These two words come into focus, I think, because of how much I struggled with these in my own experience of life over the course of the last year.

What do I mean by presence?

When I say I want 2023 to be defined by presence, I mean that I want to be aware of my surroundings. When I am in a moment, I want to be in the moment. I find that my brain is often not with my present experience; it might be dwelling on a past event or anxious about something in the future (which, to be sure, may or may not even happen). When my girls want my attention, I want to really give it to them, and not pretend to give it to them while I think about other things.

Some of this is inspired by Alan Jacobs's post "and then?". Writing about the recent discussions surrounding LLMs and ChatGPT, in response to writers who are excited to (ahem) not need to write, he says:

My question about all this is: And then? You rush through the writing, the researching, the watching, the listening, you’re done with it, you get it behind you — and what is in front of you? Well, death, for one thing. For the main thing.

But in the more immediate future: you’re zipping through all these experiences in order to do what, exactly? Listen to another song at double-speed? Produce a bullet-point outline of another post that AI can finish for you?

The whole attitude seems to be: Let me get through this thing I don’t especially enjoy so I can do another thing just like it, which I won’t enjoy either.

I was going to say "we all seem to be doing this." I write that way a lot, where I label the collective "we" with an ill that only I know that I suffer from. That's not fair. Maybe "we" do suffer from this ill, but that's not for me to say.

I struggle with what Alan Jacobs writes about above -- consistently. I get to work and rush through my work so I don't have to do my work anymore. When I get done with that, I get to lunch and rush through lunch because I want to eat so I can rush back to work. I repeat that cycle till the evening, when I go home, rush through making dinner so I can rush through eating dinner so I can rush through washing dishes and cleaning the house and rush to... sit down on the couch? Perhaps I find some singular moments of pause here and there. But I'm rarely present in (pulling a number out of my ass here) 80-90% of my day. Is that much of my day really not worth being present for? If so, what the hell am I doing?

I can either be here or not be here. I can either be present to my moments or I can rush through my work and my chores and the things I supposedly don't want to do. The truth is, life is all of those things. When I rush through those things, I have a feeling I'll find that I'm going to be old and regret that I didn't enjoy what was happening. Maybe this sounds cliché but it certainly feels like an epiphany, even as I write this.

So. Presence.

What do I mean by ease?

Perhaps these words are connected in some way. I think that's probably the case.

When I say I want to live a life of ease, I don't mean with a lack of discomfort, or without doing hard things. I think it's probably true that I want more discomfort and want to make more hard decisions as I grow older. Every time I've had to live with some amount of discomfort and decide to do the hard thing, I have appreciated the ethic it creates in me -- perhaps the character growth I can see in myself over the last decade.

What I mean, I think, is my mindset surrounding my days. We used to do a lot of yoga (though that has taken a bit of a backseat to weightlifting recently) using the Yoga with Adriene channel on YouTube. "Ease" was an ongoing theme in many, many of her videos. I never paid this much attention, thinking that she was just using certain poses (sukhasana - the easy pose, the pose of ease) and phrases to help her yoga practitioners get into the right mindset for the yoga practice.

But as I come into a new year seeking ease, I think I'm seeing something of what she was trying to do -- that it was deeper than just the practice itself. The goal was to build a practice of ease that rippled into the rest of life. In one of Adriene's videos that focuses on "ease," she says, "The word sukha, although it can translate to 'ease' and can translate to being comfortable, and soft, and happy, the actual root word 'su' and 'kha' to 'good space.'" This is similar to what I'm looking for here when I say "ease."

To my mind, ease is connected to other words, themes, ideas, and experiences. These might be breath, focus, relaxed, calm.

I don't think all moments can be like this, not naturally, anyway. Ease, in this capacity, seems to be a discipline of the mind, one that is built over time. If one struggles with anxiety regularly or even from time to time, ease probably needs to be practiced daily in still, calm moments.

But what I would want from that practice is that it becomes a centering discipline -- one that can be called to mind when my experience pushes me towards anxiety, fear, or anger.

(As a side note/quote: I'm reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson right now. So far, it's a beautiful novel. She writes:

A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine. Above all, mind what you say. 'Behold how much wood is kindled by how small a fire, and the tongue is a fire' -- that's the truth...

And later:

Irritation is a form of anger, I recognize that.

Beautiful thoughts, and haunting too.)

There's a lot to this "ease" business, I realize, as I'm writing this blog post. I put in the quote above from Gilead because I find that I am quite often irritated. Mostly inwardly, although I probably fail to hide it as often as I mean to. And this is connected to the idea of presence, because I find that my irritation sometimes/often comes from the feeling that I am being inconvenienced, that I would rather be doing something else, that I would rather not be where I am right now.

So, in some ways, a lack of presence leads to a lack of ease.

But it comes from other things too: it can come from the occasional feeling that something unexpected came up that I must now deal with. It can come from the feeling that the future is uncertain and I feel trapped or lost in how to handle what might come.

Rather than handle these things with irritation or fear or resentment, I want to take them with ease. To recognize that 1) I have very little control over very few things, and the rest I have no control over at all and 2) life looks and feels more beautiful when I look at the thing head on with acceptance.

So, for 2023, I'm seeking presence and ease. This was a good bit more abstract than I meant it to be. Practically, I anticipate that there will be some practices and disciplines that will need to bolster these themes for me to actually try to pursue them as ideals for my life. But right now, just writing them down is enough.

Presence. Ease.

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