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January 9, 2012

We have pointed out that it is we ourselves who are the greatest obstacle to  a deeper and fuller presence to ourselves, others, and God.  There are as many strategies of evasion of personal presence as there are persons.  It is important that we become aware of what it is in us, under the differing circumstances of our lives, that prompts us to cling to, act out of, or seek compensatory behaviors at the expense of the ultimately more satisfying response of simply being present .

     Examples of how our habitual patterns of behavior might inhibit our capacity for simple presence might include the following:

  • A desire to solve problems quickly as they arise in the situation leads to immediate action irrespective of other manifestations or movements in one’s field of experience.  Taking care of the problem now may suspend one’s attention and listening to the larger field and those aspects of it that are seemingly unrelated to the immediate problem.

  • A tendency toward “project-exaltation” that  sees only one’s chosen involvements to the exclusion of other needs and the demands made on other persons.  Here it is absorption rather than presence that rules.

  • An over concern for good preparation and order that causes one to put off being present now until everything has been taken care of and provided for.  Putting Mary off, if you will, until Martha is perfectly satisfied and prepared.

  • Only inadvertently and occasionally opening up one’s “horizon” to the transcendent dimension, to the “more than” in life.  Not infrequently as we age some will offer the comment:  “We’re getting older, you know.”  Most often, however, this is not the prelude to a conversation about the experience but a comment that is immediately dropped.  This may well be due to the anxiety that the topic evokes in us.

Deepening our capacity for presence requires of us an ever-increasing self-awareness of the contours of our habitual patterns of presence-avoidance complemented by a process of self-formation.  This process presumes a willingness to take our formation seriously, to make the quality of our presence a matter of central concern in our lives.

     In The Art of Existential Counseling, Adrian van Kaam describes the arduous process of formation that is required if we are to move beyond our habituated modes of existence .

In the long, sometimes tedious process of psychotherapy, clients experience that an unwholesome mode of existence is usually formed by an accumulation of experiences over a long period of time.  They realize gradually and slowly that the manifold experiences which built this unsavory mode of being were not worked through at the moment that they were introjected; they were not freely and wisely appropriated.  The clients now see, in the process of therapy itself, that not only the insight into the complex structure of a mode of existence, but also the slow and painful growth beyond this mode, requires an arduous and patient dialogue with the myriad manifestations of this mode in innumerable concrete life situations.  [Spiritual Formation] is the development of the ability for persevering dialogue with the disclosures of one’s existence in daily life.  One of the long-range aims of psychotherapy, therefore, is to prepare the client to be patiently present to him or herself as manifested in his or her life situation.  This art often remains unlearned in our technological society. (p. 175)

     Van Kaam points out here that our unwholesome habituated modes of existence are formed by “an accumulation of experiences over a long period of time.”  We know that we all carry wounds from our early formation, before we were able to process and work through the effects of these experiences on our emerging life form.  This is why van Kaam advises us  “to listen to the message that every pain conceals.”  (Traditional Formation, p. 175)  Our attentiveness to our experience of formation is a power of restoration.  It requires, as the passage indicates, “patient dialogue with the myriad manifestations of... [our deformative modes] in innumerable life situations.”  The disclosures occur in our current life situation; we need only attend.  This formative approach to our life prepares us for presence.  As van Kaam says, we are to be “patiently present to ourselves in our life situation.”

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Last updated: 11/25/10.