Friday, 1 January 2021

Presence - My 2021 Word of the Year

 Happy New Year to you all!! As is my tradition over the last ten years or so now, January 1st is the day to name and explore my word for the year ahead. My word for 2020 was "horizon". Despite my own personal reasons for choosing this word, it seemed particularly relevant with the uncertainties we all faced throughout the year. It is a word that could have quite happily continued journeying ahead into 2021, but this new year calls for a new focus. Over the last week I have been searching for a word that will ground me in my last year of my PhD, that will bring me back to the core of who I am and will provide a positive focus forward to the unknowns of 2022. The word itself had remained elusive until last night.

One of the benefits of living in Western Australia is the free television reviews available on my Facebook feed from friends in the Eastern states who are three hours ahead. At around 7pm, my Facebook feed was aflood with praise for Paul Kelly's performance on the New Year's Eve concert broadcast on the ABC. I trusted these people's judgment and tuned in. I was not disappointed. As I listened to familiar tunes and watched the tweets roll along the bottom of the screen, I pondered this man's presence. There were no big flashy lights. No specky visuals. No dancers. No fancy costumes. Just him, his band and the camera operators capturing the moment for all of us. Due to COVID restrictions there was no crowd hyping up the atmosphere. Just Paul Kelly being Paul Kelly. This man has presence.

Presence is a word I use often. In the practice of spiritual direction we constantly talk about the importance of presence with the person who sits before us. In the mystical tradition, the presence of the Divine is an enduring theme. While talking about the contemplative way of life, presence is a vital part of the conversation. This "talk" has become second nature to me. But what about the practice? I recognise that it is easy for me to get caught up in the "What next?" of life. I am constantly searching for the next challenge, the next adventure, the next horizon (hmm). Perhaps a year of holding presence at the forefront might be very timely.

Another aspect of this word that I find more difficult to reflect upon is the gift of presence. I recall being in an interview situation some ten years ago now. Someone in the meeting asked me what gifts I felt I would bring to the role. I floundered a little, speaking of some practical skills I felt I could offer this community. After my attempt to answer the question, a member of the group who had known me for some time spoke up. "Presence" she said. "She has a presence that will be a gift to you". I have pondered on this comment for many years wondering what it means and how this "gift" is useful. Others have said the same thing in different ways. Is it something impossible for me to see and know? Isn't presence just being yourself? Isn't it something everyone has? How do you nurture and use such a gift?

And so, as I venture into a year where I will need to have confidence in myself and what I have to say, a year when I will explore the giftedness I take into the next chapter of my life and a year when my youngest will begin to spread her wings changing my role in her life - presence seems an appropriate word to hold close. As I journey with this word into 2021, I will endeavour to find time to practice presence more intentionally and to explore the gift of my own presence and what on earth that means. 

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