Presents or Presence

Connecting with others in a more meaningful way

A few years ago my grandson was trying to negotiate with his mother, my daughter, about when Santa would come and when he could open presents. He had faith and trust that there would be wonderful gifts waiting for him on Christmas morning, if only he could make it come sooner. Many would consider this a child's way of thinking.

But is it really? Don't we all want our gifts to come as soon as possible? Isn't it really hard to wait? For people in recovery, the promises represent the gifts of working a Twelve Step program and, after the suffering that we may have experienced; we can hardly wait for them to come to fruition for us.

Patience is one of the most difficult elements of our recovery and yet so crucial to our emotional and spiritual growth. As I reflect back on my own experiences in early recovery, there were many times that I became frustrated with what I considered a lack of progress. Of course, my lack of progress was directly attributable to the expectations that I had set for myself and the progress that I thought I deserved for the work I had done. Unfortunately true gifts are not of a transactional basis. What I was looking for was payment in turn for my work, and the true rewards of our Twelve Step program comes in the transformational gift that only the God of our own understanding can bring. Real gifts come to us unconditionally and without any strings attached.

One of the gifts that recovery has given me is the ability to live in the present moment and to be truly present with another person. Our promises tell us that "we will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows." For me, this essentially includes members of my own family, who in the past I may have tried to placate or manipulate using material gifts rather than the gift of my own presence. I have learned through experience that I can reach beyond the protective wall of ego and connect with others in a more meaningful way. I now feel worthy of knowing about others and of being known. This greater sense of authenticity is the source of deeper relationships and interactions with others. Conversations can now take on a new level of intimacy where I can attentively listen non-judgmentally and with a level of compassion that I was incapable of in my using days.

In his book The Four Virtues, author, psychologist and professor Tobin Hart, defines four virtues that we need to develop for a strong sense of spirituality that can help us live abundantly in the joy of everyday life. The first of these virtues is presence as it opens us to the moment. In a world of chaos and activity, this sense of presence gives us the ability to intentionally steady and shift our attention to something meaningful. It opens our heart and mind, allowing us to move beyond our preconceptions, our fears and our pride to see new ways of being. Most importantly it brings us into intimate contact with ourselves and others in the world around us. Practicing presence takes being mindful of our thoughts, feelings and emotional sensations without getting lost in them. It is a level of emotional maturity that allows us to relate to one another in a more intimate way.

We often get caught up in our fears about tomorrow and our regrets about yesterday, when all we have is this present moment in time. To live with a sense of presence is truly a gift that comes from a power greater than ourselves. Are you aware of your Higher Power in this moment? One of my spiritual practices is to take time periodically throughout the day to reflect on what has happened over the past few hours and to try to see where my Higher Power was present in those moments or events. It's one way for me to keep spiritually connected throughout the day and to notice the sacred in the everyday ordinary.

But what about those presents? Is it material possessions that we truly celebrate during our holiday season? Or is it the real presence of our Higher Power, the presence of our AA fellowship and our ability to be truly present to those that we love. For me, that is a real cause for celebration. Even though we may make or buy presents to show our love to family and loved ones, we can also give real presence to those that we truly love. As we approach a new year, I hope to be able to be more present to those I love and to remember that my Higher Power is always present for me. Each and every creature on this earth shows the presence of an amazing Creator. Where can you be more present in your life?

David Cagle headshotDavid Cagle is a renewal specialist in the Lodge Program at the Dan Anderson Renewal Center. A broad range of experience from the chaotic world of corporate finance to the contemplative practices of spiritual direction and pastoral care inform his personal perspectives on spiritual growth in long-term recovery.

Join David at the Dan Anderson Renewal Center at Hazelden in Center City, Minn. in the Lodge Program or for a weekend retreat.

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