On Being Present by Jody Casella



It is my daily goal. And nearly every day it is a goal I promptly forget, sometimes within seconds of waking up as I stumble in a foggy cloud down to my kitchen to make coffee and feed the animals and make breakfast for the people and pack lunches, all while listening to the news, immediately

plunging into the day's outrage, rehearsing the angry message I'll leave on my cowardly-complicit-never-answering-his-phone senator's voicemail or the conversation I'll have with the aide who does answer the phone at my cowardly-complicit congressman's office, the aide that I always vow to be kind to because she's just a twenty-something stuck in a crappy job, and it's not her fault her boss is cowardly and complicit, the aide I somehow always end up berating, once making her cry

like those crappy customers I waited on did to me when I was a twenty-something working at Ponderosa and Perkins and TGI Fridays who'd yell at me because the cook had burned their T-bone steak or because I'd forgotten to bring them the sour cream they'd asked for because I was running around trying to balance four burning hot dishes on my arm or holding four glasses in one hand,

a trick I am proud to say I can still do. The secret is to keep your hand completely flat and all of the glasses must be the same size--

But what was I saying about presence?

Wait. Let me tell you this first:

Last year when I was working on a book about childhood trauma, I did a lot of research about what it does to the body and to the mind, the surge of adrenaline that courses through you when you are terrified, the adrenaline that keeps coursing through you when you are living in a constant state of terror.

Something I came upon in my research was the fight or flight idea, which most people have heard of, where a child, let's say, is being attacked, and the mind's response is to immediately go primal, no longer thinking logically, but simply doing what it must to survive, and

how you survive is you Fight or you Flee and let the mind sort the mess out later, but here's the thing you might not know,

there's a third response called Freeze, where your mind instinctively knows there is no way you can fight and win, and it's too late to flee, and anyway, where will you go? you are a child and this person who is about to hurt you is coming from inside the house, as they say,

so you freeze, and your mind switches off and it's a beautiful brilliant amazing trick, don't you think? how the mind protects that child, how the child is no longer there, and so remains hidden and safe

and we can sort all of that mess out later.

Another word for this, according to my research, is Dissociation, and something you may not know about dissociation is that it is a trick you can keep performing (like balancing four glasses on your perfectly flattened hand) a trick you can do every day, without realizing it, even though it is no longer necessary for survival-- this trick, dissociation, which, come to think of it, is the very opposite of


My goal this year

To be present. To exist in the moment, savoring it, experiencing it, appreciating it, looking my loved ones in the eyes when I am listening to them, cherishing them when they are with me, and when I am alone, cherishing that time

inhabiting the space with my body, breathing in and out


both feet on the floor, my fingers on the keyboard keys, tapping, the dark window, the outline of tree branches outside, because this moment, this moment, this moment

is the only moment

and not the terrifying past and not the potentially terrifying future, but Now.

It is a goal worth striving for, even as I fail daily, don't you think?


  1. Excellent post and you're so right about the challenge of being present. I think about how many times someone has been talking to me and I realize my mine has already wandered off like a cow in the pasture. Very challenging to be present, but so worth it.

  2. I like this goal, and I have to say I'm impressed by the glasses. I can do the plates thanks to my own food service experience, but the glasses, no way.

    1. Don't be too impressed, Alissa... Notice that the glasses do not contain any liquid! That was the real trick :)

  3. Twelve years ago I signed upon for a class called "Awakening into Presence." I didn't know what that meant or what the class was about, but the teacher came highly recommended, I ended up studying with her until she retired last year. Best leap of faith ever!

    1. This sounds really interesting. I used to do yoga and meditation more regularly, and that helped. Now I'm reminded that I need to get back into it!

    2. I do the yoga thing, too. I'm a big believer.

  4. I want to do this, too. Yes, look everyone in the eye and be with them when you're together. It's easy to spend too much time in one's own head. Thanks for the lovely post!

  5. We are word twinses, Jody, though I can already tell you, you've said it better than I can. It's always a pleasure to read your posts. :)


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