The Roar of Presence
by Rivke van der Lugt
“Hi. Yes, I’m here.”
One of my college acting professors got under my skin. She and I disagreed on some very important life matters. It’s sometimes the teachers who irritate us who leave the greatest impression, isn’t it?
There were two things that I respected about this teacher. One was that she had “Structure is freedom” written on her office wall and she would often explain this statement in detail to students. It is through her that I grew to understand the need for technique, honing one’s skills, focus and well-defined safe boundaries within which one can truly release, explore, and experiment.
The second practice she taught me was about the importance of presence. At the start of every acting class, we would stand in a circle. She would greet each student individually and ask: “Are you here?” You could respond in one of two ways: “Hi. Yes, I am here,” or “Hi. No, I’m not here yet.” If you answered in the second way, then she would ask: “What do you need to get here?”
This may seem like a simple question, but let’s be honest: How often do we ask ourselves that? How often are we truly present? How many times a day do we nod yes and believe we are listening–to our partners, our children, ourselves, the person on the other end of the phone–while in our minds we are really making a grocery list, worrying about our teeth/hair/waistline, wondering if we locked the back door, or wishing this would all go a little faster so that we could get to the next thing on our to-do list?
Acting is about being in the moment. Theater is live. In the midst of a performance, there is no “take 2” on a scene that didn’t go well. You can’t say to an audience: “Oh, I’m sorry, I was spacing out! Can we take it from the top again?” Of course, real life is also live and happening in the moment but luckily, it is more merciful than theater in this aspect. We DO get to pause and breathe and figuratively rewind.
If a fellow actor would stop mid-stream during a performance and say, “Sorry, I’m just not here yet. Give me a moment to get here,” I’d probably panic and feel the need to improvise some silly little dance to distract the audience. But if my husband or sister or a good friend… heck, even if the cashier at the grocery store were to say those very same words to me, I’d feel gratitude. Truth be told, it would touch me deeply. It would stop me in my tracks and fill me with compassion. Because aren’t we all just struggling in some way to let go of the mental merry-go-round and be here? Right here. Together.
I crave presence. I crave it from myself and from others. I crave being present together. True intimacy lies in the corners these days. Center stage is taken up by social media and all sorts of multitasking and split attention. I know I am not alone in this place of craving. Let’s put it down, whatever “it” is: the cell phone, the radio in the background, the incessant need for distraction. Let’s put it down for just a moment and ask ourselves: “What do I need to get here?”
Chances are, a deep breath and a hug will do the trick.
“Hi. Yes, I’m here.”
Rivke van der Lugt dedicates her daily life to mindful living, her family & friends and the art of chronic illness resilience. Due to insatiable curiosity, she has a long list of hobbies including vipassana meditation, walking in nature, reading, photography, cooking and learning about compassion. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Theater and is a certified Systemic Family Coach. In a small cozy house in the Netherlands, she lives with her husband, three children and one fluffy cat.
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