Being, Concert, Gogo Penguin, Life Coaching, Presence, WonderPlay Coaching

Presenting…Presence!

I went to a concert on Friday. I was excited to have a night out with a friend (being social! Not working!), and I was interested to see how this experience would go: this was a band I had barely heard of, but came with the most glowing praise from a friend. I hadn’t planned on working, but I found myself inspired to write on my experience.


The band (Gogo Penguin) was great. Better than great, they were incredible. They were a delicious meal for my musician brain – a stunning flow of energy with incredible creativity and precision. Their individual skill was staggering, and their partnership was seamless. Their exploration of their art and craft was gorgeous and intriguing.


But this is not an essay about a great concert. It is a reflection about all concerts, great and otherwise, and inclusive of other powerful public shares: recitals, plays, speeches, shows, circuses, spectacles, protests, and everything at the huge end of the spectrum – and then on the small end, even conversations.


It boils down to this: it’s about sharing in a shared space. It’s about Presence.


“You had to be there!” Ever heard this? Ever said it? There is something special and beautifully impermanent about gatherings of humans in shared space. This is why the performing arts even exist  – experiencing together is powerful. Even if you go to see a movie or a play by yourself, you are still with everyone else who is in attendance – and now you have had a shared experience with people who are strangers. But now you can say to strangers as you leave the shared space, “wasn’t that something?” Being at that concert, I got to experience the peaks and valleys with people around me – and then afterward, my friend and I stood outside the venue and shared all of the reasons why this concert blew our minds.


I met up with my husband on my way home, and when he asked me how the concert was, I didn’t share nearly as much of the particulars with him as with my friend. Why was that? Well…he just wasn’t there, so it didn’t seem like it would be as meaningful for him to only hear my words about it. If I went home and shared their discography with him later, maybe he could appreciate the art the way I did – but that wouldn’t have made him any more present in the moment of the performance itself. Could I share my experience with him in words? Sure. Would he feel like he had been there? Possibly, if I had all the best words. But even if he felt transported himself, that doesn’t add his energy to the experience of the rest of the folks who were there. Experiencing something yourself, in tandem with community, gives access to to a shared consciousness. And “FOMO” exists for a reason.


Presence can be important for people in other ways. Presence or absence can speak volumes. A single person’s presence or absence can change the entire dynamic of a gathering. And think about how many times you have heard (or expressed) gratitude for someone who was “there” for you. Could I have enjoyed the music just as much in the absence of my friend? Likely, yes. Would I have had an altogether different experience with a different friend? Likely, yes. Would our experience have been shifted if it was a crowd of 5, or 50, or 500, or even 5,000? Would the band have been more or less engaging? It’s hard to say – but it’s not a performance until you have an audience to share the experience with you.


This past weekend, the inspiration was not just the glory of the music. It was, for me, a full room of concertgoers experiencing energy together. We were connected not just in the action of going to the concert, but being at the concert. There is something inescapable and unavoidable about feeling the same energy and appreciation as the person next to you, or being in the midst of a cheering crowd, or being in a lively discussion with like-minded passionate people. It’s that collective gasp when something surprising happens that we witness together, or that pregnant hush in the room at a poignant moment, or a tender sigh about something we find collectively precious.


On one end, this palpable shared energy is the source of mob mentality. I have never personally participated in a mosh pit, for instance, or even crowdsurfing, but it’s certainly a part of a community expression of exuberance, even if it sometimes leads to injury. With a different lens, this shared experience is a source of genuine connection and mutually shared power and celebration. Our collective cheers and applause brought them back for 2 encore numbers. Might they have played the encores even if we hadn’t cheered as enthusiastically? Sure. But what we knew to do, together, was to applaud their work with sufficient fervor to ask them back.


Another expression of Presence comes up for me with simply noticing and Being With all of the parts of a present moment – Being With whatever is happening. At my concert, I had moments of being Present with my body sensations – hearing and feeling the music and the warmth of the audience, sensing through my shoes into the floor, changing my balance as people brushed past me, tasting my drink, seeing the lights shift, smelling the room. I sometimes got really Present with my sense of connection – the musicians with each other in body and sound, the musicians with us as the audience, myself with my friend, and the whole of the audience with each other. In those moments, I’m not looking ahead for what’s next or anywhere but fully immersed in the Present. My colleague, Matt Maxwell, reflected this to me with a sportspuck analogy. Hockey moves so fast, the players simply don’t have time to have their attention anywhere but the present moment. If someone makes a poor pass or misses a shot, you don’t see the players kicking themselves or berating each other. You just see them move on to the next new reality, which may now be that the other team has the puck and they’re on defense. Not everyone plays their sportsball games this way, especially with games that have so much downtime (baseball, football, golf) and with access to instant replays. But performance artists know this: dwell on a past mistake and you might just make the next one.


Lately, in my coaching business, I think of Presence particularly in a professional way. In all of my interactions, it’s not enough for only me to be Present – I need to invite the Presence of others! One of my companies, The Sacred Circus, just finished hosting an event yesterday; WonderPlay Coaching prepares for its next workshop (you can find it on Facebook and Meetup); The Sacred Circus opens registration for The Total Wellness Retreat in Costa Rica in 2018. My other pursuits invite Presence too – my dance partner and I invite folks to our next Blues Dance workshop; my students share their upcoming show. Without attending an event, you can get the digest, or hear how it went, or even study the content — but there is no substitute for your Presence: sharing space-time and mental energy. This applies to personal relationships too: recall your last conversation when your companion mentally checked out – or when you did. Recall the opposite – connecting deeply with someone, being fully related or completely on the same page. Even for yourself – tuning in to what you really want or need is a practice of Presence.

A great irony, isn’t it? – that I write about Presence, but in doing so, all I share with you are my words. So, I write as an invitation to share your Presence with me and with each other.
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How have you observed Presence in your relationships? How do you choose to be Present for yourself and others?

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