In this episode we hold tight to the idea of being a trapeze artist. To understand Presence, think of those fit svelte women in sequined leotards and nude tights, swinging on the bars, balancing high above the crowds with only an arm or a leg bent to support them.
As they swung back and forth and gained momentum, swinging their legs like a child on a swing set, the trapeze synchronicity started in earnest.
As their hands left one swing, to fly unfettered for a few brief seconds before grasping the approaching bar, they were practicing perfect Presence.
That moment when you let go of the first bar, like the trapeze artists, all that is past, is gone.
By letting go, all your fears are left behind, as you fly unencumbered and free, not yet in the future, but no longer in the past.
In the space before grabbing the oncoming swing, you are thinking of only the present. The past is over, the future has not arrived, and you are filled with nothing but the calm of now.
The Pillar of PRESENCE
Many women live a worldly life in young adulthood. Then, at age 40 or so, life becomes more interior or spiritual, with attention moving inward towards the spiritual challenges and territories of the self. Our sense of presence allows the polished depths of life`s repeated themes to shine through and illuminate this powerful and now extended time of life. In this episode, the co-authors suggest many ways in which our listeners can explore and improve their inner world, including turning down the volume of their inner critic, freeing themselves from limiting beliefs, focusing on their own (rather than others’) business, and heightening their intuition.
Good news! Presence can make you younger! This is according to the work of Ellen Langer, a professor at Harvard, renowned for her work on the subject of mindfulness. After coming across several references to her work, I started reading her books and watching her lectures on YouTube. I was struck by her optimism. She calls what she does “the psychology of possibility”. This differentiates her work in that she is looking for the exceptions to the rules and promoting these exceptions as possibilities.
Langer’s work, unlike a lot of popular spiritual writings, focuses on mindfulness itself, rather than on meditation first to quiet the mind leading to more mindful living. Langer’s advice is deceptively simple: she says to be mindful we should notice new things. This, she says, leads to the feeling of engagement. Even in practiced or repetitive actions, she recommends making them mindful by changing them in very subtle ways that only you would know. Her many research studies indicate clearly that audiences prefer works of art (music, paintings, writing) that are created with this mindfulness, that those who engage with others mindfully are perceived as more charismatic, and that mindfulness improves health and well-being on all levels.
Central to her work is a challenge to the duality of mind and body. She sees them as one and functioning together. To engage the full power of our mind and body, the power of our possibilities, we must challenge social and cultural cues and limitations as not real and not binding us. She says that possibility opens up when we recognize the difference between uncontrollable and indeterminate. Professor Langer challenges the way we look at the world, the way we try to assert our stable, unchanging mindset on the ever-changing world, the way we try to assert our limited and limiting mindset in a vain attempt to create certainty where there is none We confuse the stability of our mindsets with the stability of the underlying phenomena, which are not stable but ever changing.
Langer would have us challenge everything, including why we should not be able to improve our vision, hearing, mental acuity, and all other indicia of good health as we get older. Her landmark 1979 Counter Clockwise experiment powerfully demonstrated the power of the mind over aging. Langer took two groups of elderly men on retreat for a week, one a control group who simply reminisced about 20 years earlier and the other a group who lived in a recreated world of 20 years earlier wherein they were instructed to live “as if” it was 1959. Langer took baseline physical and psychological tests of both groups. As it turned out, both groups functioned better independently than they had in their circumstances outside of the study wherein they were dependent on others, both groups’ hearing and memory improved, with the experimental group measuring as significantly younger after the week, including their appearance improving. Langer showed that it is our mindset, not necessarily our biology, which creates our destiny.
This fits the Just Push Play model. Langer encourages us all to begin a personal renaissance by admitting to ourselves that we know nothing. This is mindful: everything is new and everything is changing, allowing us to challenge the idea that the limits we assume exist at all, and to recognize those limits as social and cultural constructs that we do not have to follow.
So, at a legal training, I set out to notice new things, to notice that things vary according to context and perspective. I wanted to see if I or others would notice me noticing. During this day, I felt enlivened, as Langer said I would, and yet, the problem was, I promptly floated away from that and did not know when I had lost my mindfulness. I only knew that I was not mindful when I noticed again and was again mindful. In and out I floated. In the afternoon, after being called on to speak briefly, a colleague who has known me for 25 years came to me to say that she noticed how carefully I had chosen just the right words. To be honest, I did not really notice that comment. Also, when leaving at the end of the day, a new acquaintance said that he was struck by how articulate I was when called upon to comment. I received two unsolicited affirmations of the power of mindfulness. It worked: I noticed and they noticed.
Another way to take mindfulness into our days is by mindful decision- making. Langer says that once we make a decision, we act as if it could not have been done any other way. Yet, if we make a mistake and then go forward incorporating that mistake, that is true mindfulness according to Langer. Again, this accords with the JPP pillar of Perfection where we learn to celebrate our imperfection, and to incorporate it into our lives, valuing the unique beauty, and possibilities, it brings to creation..
What we believe is crucial to every aspect of our lives. If we believe in linear time, we are aging. Yet, Langer’s work tells us that we do not have to be growing older. It also tells us, if we have grown older, our minds can very powerfully help us to change it. I believe that have seen this variability. Where my dad winters in Arizona, the variability of elders is striking. There are healthy 90 year olds, like the former Olympian I meet working out vigorously in the gym every day, and retirees younger than I am riding their scooters to pick up their mail at their boxes. If you are reading this at midlife, now is the time to decide which elder you want your mind to help you to become and to start working on her. I hope you challenge your beliefs about what you can and will be for the rest of your life, and, simply by the act of noticing them, bust loose from the limits you may have unconsciously put on yourself or accepted from others. When we look for what might be, rather than rely on knowledge we gained in the past about what is, we increase our mindfulness which can increase our health, effectiveness and well-being , in turn making us younger every day.
This week’s playtime is all about being PRESENT!
Try 5 New Things
Notice 5 new things today and write them down here:
if you have a spouse, about your spouse. If you don’t have a spouse, about the person with whom you are the best acquainted who is in your day today, either physically or mentally.
about the most familiar room in your home.
about your commute, or a practiced pathway within your home or office.
Once you have compiled your lists, notice how you feel having seen novelty in these familiar parts of your life. Do you see them differently? Is there a new energy or enlivening?