Nicholas Brealey 2005/06
Reviewed by Karen Eberhardt Shelton
I’ve always wondered what manner of ‘profound change’ it would take to alter how individuals think and act. Individuals make up society; if enough of them did change, that would mean society itself would undergo some kind of transformation. Thus it was with great curiosity and anticipation that I waded in and began absorbing the discerning logic and experiential wisdom the four experts had woven in and out of all kinds of background qualifications and assembled into one gigantic platter of prescriptions for how to make sense of who we are, how society functions, the consequences of our interactions and the kinds of scenarios that result because of the choices we make, both personal and public, at all levels of human conduct.
One of the reasons this book has such appeal is because it was about collaboration; four individuals working on it together, pooling their unique ideas and experience. It is the richer for that. My sense was that one person alone couldn’t have possibly accumulated so much useful knowledge about how to repair broken concepts in a way that would restore them to health.
Presence is also equivalent to a heart transplant in the broken societies of today’s world because it offers new blood and a richer, better way of pumping that blood around the cavities of a slowly dying body, and in the process pulling all living things into its affirmative flow.
Presence is not pretentious or scholarly; it’s down-to-earth and entirely accessible . It’s like walking through a newly harvested field of hay at the end of a warm summer’s afternoon and breathing in fragrant textures of scent and continuity. Slowly reading through (and underlining, underlining) this book filled me with a sort of painful contentment and realisation that yes, this is how it is, this is what we need to turn to, this is how we must learn to think if we are ever to experience earthly fulfillment and sense of global harmony in the years to come.
Without that awakening to the quality of the presence of life around us, the way in which humans have torn the planet apart will reverse and tear us apart and we will be left as a mass of squabbling factions struggling to survive.
How does Presence advise us to avert disaster, what realisations does it offer? For starters, it’s about “deep listening, about being open beyond one’s preconceptions and historical ways of making sense, about making choices that serve the evolution of life.” Perhaps one of its biggest probes lies in wondering “Shouldn’t we come together to answer one fundamental question: why don’t we change?” and leads on to reminding us that “Seeing freshly starts with stopping our habitual ways of thinking and perceiving. . .SEEING OUR SEEING IS JUST THE BEGINNING. It’s about learning to look from ‘inside’, starting to see reality freshly, seeing our connections to reality more clearly. . . .The best approach is being able to understand that the whole is to be found in the parts. . .When we encounter the authentic Whole, we encounter life at work and are transformed from passive observers to active participants in ways that intellectual understanding can never achieve.”
I particularly embraced the concept of problems arising out a lack of human relationship, ‘not just with each other but with all of nature.” How can you harm or destroy that which you have entered into a reciprocal relationship with? Our global awareness is based on alienation and separation. “We have to change that relationship to one of co-creation. You and the other are two forms of the same life. We are stuck in a story of who we are on this earth as human beings. . .We have no idea of the cost we pay for living this story of separation.”
Essentially, we fall into three categories: OSTRICH, those who avoid facing problems. LAME DUCK, where the power to act is crippled, and FLAMINGO. Flamingos take off very slowly and take off together, thus making their ‘scenario’ the only viable way forward and allowing for ‘seeing with the heart collectively’. They are not even thinking: they are ONE with the situation.
There are chapters about types of learning, becoming a force of nature, crystallising our intent, opening up a dialogue with the universe, meeting our future, and a wonderful epilogue titled: “With Man Gone, Will There Be Hope For Gorilla?” There are vastly useful and softly brought-together guidelines for how to open the eyes of industry, the medical practice, education, science. . .The four authors met over a long period of time on a regular (more or less monthly) basis to discuss and compare their progress in various disciplines and interactions with multiple facets of society. Thus the collective guidance and insight they offer adds up to more than the sum of its parts. There are countless spoonfuls of good medicine for elevating the tricky business of being human to a level that enhances and supports all life. It is not the Status Quo that needs preserving, it is the call to assert our highest potential for good that needs to be heard.
As Presence states so beautifully, “The longest road you will ever walk is the sacred journey from your head to your heart.” Reading this worthy book will inevitably heighten your perception and knowledge of what is required of us if we are willing to act from our highest future selves. It will make your heart and your head tingle in unison. And then you will be moved to act–as though you were a flamingo relishing the art of synchronised flying.