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The Power of Presence

This is a long quote from one of my favorite books, “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of Quick Fix” by Edwin Friedman.

I’ve been thinking about it the past couple days with all the news about Covid-19 and thinking about the importance of pastors, leaders, parents, and others to offer the power of their presence to help calm those in our communities.

THE POWER OF PRESENCE by Edwin Friedman
The notion that an entity can modify surrounding relationships through its presence rather than its forcefulness, moreover, is not unknown to science. Catalysts function that way, for example, and we use the term to catalyze to mean a reaction that occurs without forcibly rearranging the parts.

Enzymes in the body function in a similar way. Although it is possible to imagine the work of enzymes as snipping off strands of DNA and putting them in another place, they actuallydo not function in that manner. In fact, it is not really known how their presence causes DNA to rearrange itself.

But perhaps a transformer in an electrical circuit is the best metaphor for the workings of presence. Transformers can activate or deactivate a circuit that runs through them, depending on the ratio of coils they contain.

Reactive leaders function as a step-up transformer. As one education administrator said, “My mother was a step-up transformer, all right. If there was anxiety in the room and she was present, you could count on it escalating.”

But it is also possible to be a step-down transformer — to function in such a way that you let the current go through you without zapping you or fusing you to the rest of the circuit.

To the extent that leaders and consultants can maintain a non-anxious presence in a highly energized anxiety field, they can have the same effects on that field that transformers have in an electrical circuit. Transformers have no moving parts. They reduce the potential in a field by the nature of their own presence and being; they are in effect a field themselves.

Anyone can remain non-anxious if they also try to be non-present. The trick is to be both non-anxious and present simultaneously.

Leadership that is rooted in a sense of presence can also be misconstrued as a justification for passivity — for avoiding getting your feet wet, for just being “nice so everyone will love or respect you.”

Leadership through self-differentiation is not easy; learning techniques and imbibing data are far easier. Nor is striving or achieving success as a leader without pain: there is the pain of isolation, the pain of loneliness, the pain of personal attacks, the pain of losing friends.

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Howard Thurman on the Act of Creation

“The simplest definition of art is that it is the activity by which people realize their ideals…We are all artists in the sense that we are all engaged in some kind of activity by which we are realizing our ideals. What kind of ideas are you realizing? There is no neutrality here. Everybody is engaged in this activity.

Is what you are realizing worthy of you, or are you engaged in the realization of ideals of which you are ashamed, and before which you stand condemned in your own sight? Long, long ago, it was said by a very wise and understanding friend, “By their fruits ye shall know them…”

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“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.” 

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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An Inward Sea by Howard Thurman

There is in every person an inward sea, and in that sea there is an island and on that island there is an altar and standing guard before that altar is the ”angel with the flaming sword.” Nothing can get by that angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the mark of your inner authority. Nothing passes ”the angel with the flaming sword” to be placed upon your altar unless it be a part of ”the fluid area of your consent.” This is your crucial link with the Eternal.

Source: Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart

Recently a friend shared this with a group I was with and it has stuck with me ever since. It is a powerful image and progression that moves to the inwardmost parts. The piece that really connects with me right now is that “nothing can get by that angel to be place upon that altar,” nothing…

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Truth as Blasphemy

The whole world is crazy…The only reason we’re not locked up in an institution is that there are so many of us. So we’re crazy. We’re living on crazy ideas about love, about relationships, about happiness, about joy, about everything. We’re crazy to the point, I’ve come to believe, that if everybody agrees on something, you can be sure it’s wrong. Every new idea, every great idea, when it first began was in a minority of one. hat man called Jesus Christ — minority of one. Everybody was saying something different from what he was saying. The Buddha — minority of one. Everybody was saying something different from what he was saying. I think it was Bertrand Russell who said, “Every great idea starts out as blasphemy.” That’s well and accurately put.

-Anthony de Mello (Awareness)

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A Listening That is So Alive

Douglas Steere speaks of listening to one another with a depth that might change the speaker, and also the listener. He uses Kierkegaard’s image of vocal ministry in describing this listening which is ‘so alive that judgment is withheld…To listen correctly, we must radically shift the roles. Now it is not the deliverer of the message who is performing before me, but I myself am on the stage speaking the part. Now there is only a single listener in the audience. That listener is God.

— Marge Abbott in An Experiment in Faith: Quaker Women Transcending Difference (Pendle Hill #323).

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Missing Out of the Orchestra – De Mello

Flickr Credit: Gerry Dincher - North Carolina Symphony
Flickr Credit: Gerry Dincher – North Carolina Symphony

I never tire of Jesuit Anthony De Mello’s thoughts and challenges. Here is one that I have been reflecting on recently:

Now think of yourself listening to an orchestra in which the sound of the drum is so loud that nothing else can be heard. To enjoy the symphony you must be responsive to every instrument in the orchestra. To be in the state called love you must be sensitive to the uniqueness and beauty of every single thing and person around you. You can hardly be said to love what you do not even notice; and if you notice only a few beings to the exclusion of others, that is not love at all, for love excludes no one at all; it embraces the whole of life; it listens to the symphony as a whole, not to just one or the other of the musical instruments.

Stop for a while now to see how your attachments drain life’s symphony no less than the politician’s attachment to power and the businessman’s attachment to money have hardened them to the melody of life.

 

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The Imagined Rebellion – Kierkegaard

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A revolutionary age is an age of action; ours is the age of advertisement and publicity. Nothing ever happens but there is immediate publicity everywhere. In the present age a rebellion is, of all things, the most unthinkable. Such an expression of strength would seem ridiculous to the calculating intelligence of our times. On the other hand a political virtuoso might bring off a feat almost as remarkable. He might write a manifesto suggesting a general assembly at which people should decide upon a rebellion, and it would be so carefully worded that even the censor would let it pass. At the meeting itself he would be able to create the impression that his audience had rebelled, after which they would all go quietly home – having spent a very pleasant evening. -Soren Kierkegaard (The present Age, p. 35)

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If God is Love – Peggy Morrison

“If God is Love, then all Love is of God. Where Love is—there God is—without exception. If you truly love, or are loved, by anyone, then God is in that relationship, named or unnamed. God touches them through your love. And because God is love, and love is indestructible, as long as you love them you cannot loose them” (Peggy Morrison, Miracle Motors, p. 201).

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Detachment by Anthony de Mello

DETACHMENT by Anthony de Mello

“The only way to change is by changing your understanding. But what does it mean to understand? How do we go about it? Consider how we’re enslaved by various attachments; we’re striving to rearrange the world so that we can keep these attachments, because the world is a constant threat to them. I fear that a friend may stop loving me; he or she may turn to somebody else. I have to keep making myself attractive because I have to get this other person. Somebody brainwashed me into thinking I need his or her love. But I really don’t. I don’t need anybody’s love; I just need to get in touch with reality. I need to break out of this prison of mine, this programming, this conditioning, these false beliefs, these fantasies; I need to break out into reality. Reality is lovely; it is an absolute delight. Eternal life is now. We’re surrounded by it, like the fish in the ocean, but we have no notion about it at all. We’re too distracted with this attachment. Temporarily, the world rearranges itself to suit our attachment, so we say, “Yeah, great! My team won!” But hang on; it’ll change; you’ll be depressed tomorrow. Why do we keep doing this?

Do this little exercise for a few minutes: Think of something or someone you are attached to; in other words, something or someone without which or without whom you think you are not going to be happy. It could be your job, your career, your profession, your friend, your money, whatever. And say to this object or person, “I really do not need you to be happy. I’m only deluding myself in the belief that without you I will not be happy. But I really don’t need you for my happiness; I can be happy without you. You are not my happiness, you are not my joy.” If your attachment is a person, he or she is not going to be very happy to hear you say this, but go ahead anyway. You can say it in the secrecy of your heart. In any case, you’ll, be making contact with the truth; you’ll be smashing through a fantasy. Happiness is a state of nonillusion, of dropping the illusion.”

“…I was afraid to say this, but I talked to God, and I told Him that I don’t need Him. My initial reaction was “This is so contrary to everything that I’ve been brought up with”. Now, some people want to make an exception of their attachment to God. They say, “If God is the God that I think He ought to be. He’s not going to like it when I give up my attachment to Him”! All right, if you think that unless you get God you’re not going to be happy, then this “God” you’re thinking of has nothing to do with the real God. You’re thinking of a dream state; you’re thinking of your concept. Sometimes you have to get rid of “God” in order to find God. Lots of mystics tell us that.”

Source: Detachment and Anthony de Mello – Paul Myers Pictures