Feeling a Presence

Meditation garden, Osmosis Sanctuary

Weather ran the curriculum in Boston this winter. The coursework included deep dives into acceptance, patience, stoic detachment and mastery in moving to Plan B (or C or D) quickly. And not getting angry or taking any of it personally. I learned a lot, but it is that course you hope you don’t have to repeat.

I just returned from a week in Northern California where spring is in full swing and the sun was bright and warm. California is weeks ahead of us here in Boston, but that’s exactly what is getting set up now, invisibly, below the snow cover that remains. It will emerge, almost overnight, and then overwhelm us with its grandeur.

Lots of us are fascinated by the parts that are hard to see, by what is in the “not quite visible” range. That liminality—one I have referred to for years as “somewhere between what is hidden and what is seen”—is at the border, in every direction. I felt that inflection while watching the pond life in the Osmosis meditation garden in Sonoma County, just as I did a few days later walking along the snowy edge of Pleasure Bay in South Boston. There’s something there, with me, that I can’t describe.

What are these circumstances, places, things that call us to an inchoate attention? I’m not sure how to answer that, but I do think those experiences have correlations with other ways in which humans sense something unseen. A recent Guardian article, The strange world of felt presences, offers some background:

In cases of hearing voices (sometimes called auditory verbal hallucinations), people sometimes struggle to describe the nature of the “voice” they hear. Because we tend to use the term ‘hearing voices’ to describe this experience, researchers and clinicians often focus on auditory characteristics (Did the voice sound like it was coming from inside your head, or outside of your head? How loud was the voice?). But sometimes, feelings of presence might accompany the voice-hearing experience, and some people who hear voices describe their “voice” being there even when it is not speaking; a voice that seems to have a presence of its own. In these cases, hearing a voice may be much more like sensing a person or being visited by an entity, rather than experiencing sound.

The article is linked to the multidisciplinary research being conducted through a group in the U.K. affiliated with Durham University, Hearing the Voice. The site has a lot of material for anyone interested in the many aspects of this topic.

In The Wasteland, TS Eliot poses this question:

Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I together. But when I look ahead up the white road, there is always another one walking beside you.

Please, walk my way.

Osmosis Sanctuary, Sonoma County

Life in the pond, Osmosis

South Boston beach

Pleasure Bay, South Boston

7 Replies to “Feeling a Presence”

  1. Wonderful post. I can imagine the serenity of Osmosis Sanctuary (love the name).

    1. deborahbarlow says:

      Thanks Maureen. It has been a pilgrimage destination for nearly 30 years. Worth the visit if you are ever nearby.

  2. Sally Reed says:

    I am not I.
    I am this one
    walking beside me whom I do not see,
    whom at times I manage to visit,
    and whom at other times I forget;
    who remains calm and silent while I talk,
    and forgives, gently, when I hate,
    who walks where I am not,
    who will remain standing when I die.

    ~ Juan Ramón Jiménez
    Translation by Robert Bly

    1. deborahbarlow says:

      Perfect, just perfect. I love that poem. Thanks Sally.

  3. dipittsburgh says:

    Wonderful imagery in your musings, Deb and in Sally’s poem. Thank you, twice!

    1. deborahbarlow says:

      Thanks Di. I know you know of what I speak…

  4. I think of the experience as a kind of edge-dwelling, exploring the fringes between, the overlaps, the layers, the hedgerows…for me, that’s often where the “liminality” or not-quite-visible exists.

    Nice photos, too. They’re examples of what I’m not putting into words very well here. Hang in there…the snow will eventually move on (despite the storm you just got–again–).

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