Mental Health, Psychology

In the Absence of Presence

This post speaks to an important topic that relates to all fields. It was originally posted on the blog, A Father’s Path, but the information relates to every endeavor and offers something to truly think about…

(~three minute read)

The changes we’ve gone through as human beings since the end of the last millennium are catching up with us. Night after night, the evening news reels capture the disturbing patterns, and other media sources remind us of the general decline of mental health. This isn’t a doomsday speech but an attempt to point to a challenge that requires more than a change of policy or politicians. The problem is complex and so are the answers. And the most important answers won’t come from circles outside of our home.

One simple action (and symptom of something more corrosive) that has changed over the decades ripples out in a complex fashion: Acknowledgment. We barely receive it in the flesh, and we are invisible in our community of phones, tablets, headphones, and earbuds. We’ve segmented the social atmosphere and created a one-way capsule in lieu of the womb of nature and humanity.

The psychological equivalent of physical nutrients is to be understood by someone we value. Unlike hundreds of “hearts” and “likes”, to be understood, heard, and appreciated creates a resilient buffer for the maladies of daily life. Yet understanding comes far down the line from acknowledgment. You have to feel you exist before you can dive deeply into the reciprocal meaning of being understood.

And you have to acknowledge a problem to begin to see the solution– and there is no opposite of acknowledgment. Like all qualities, it’s either there to some degree or not. The closest we can get to non-acknowledgment is absence. I don’t acknowledge your presence. It seems many of the attention-getting entities survive on this process, seducing with a pleasure drip only to make us absent in our lives—and others. And to look up and acknowledge means to meet eye to eye with someone who is implicitly categorized as a “stranger” although you may have passed them in the grocery store or the health club for years.

Aliveness moves and living is an active process on every level. A flow. A relationship. In this period of history, it seems the only time we notice the aliveness between us is when we hear the hardest news. A loss of a child, a town consumed by a flood, mass shootings, an apartment building full of innocent beings crumbled by a warhead in the name of…   

We feel their presence in pain. We feel their absence in grief. But if we don’t catch ourselves, we fall back into the habit of passive consumption boxed in by four walls, creating an artificial divide from the natural world. We worry about updating the kitchen and if our doorknobs are the right style while we haven’t walked in the woods, played peek-a-boo with a young child, had a deep conversation with a loved one, played catch in a grassy field for no reason, witnessed a sunrise, gazed at the stars, or gave gratitude in silence. In otherwords, acknowledging with our presence that awe feeds the deepest of us all.

It all starts with acknowledgment. There’s nothing passive about admitting we are all in this together. If we keep turning away, keep plugged in, and keep hoping AI will meet human needs, slowly but surely the aliveness seeps from our core. And that emptiness feels heavy. It’s no surprise that every measure or attempted theory of well-being, happiness, or longevity has little to do with externals, or with things purchased. And everything to do with relationships. For as we are in our hearts, we are. But you have to risk feeling edgy or bored and turn your eyes away from passive attractions and pleasure traps. You have to acknowledge that connection requires movement, intention, energy… and presence.     

photo credit: Johannes Plenio   

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