In yoga, we usually talk about being present, but over the past few days, "absent" is the word that has been rolling around in my brain.
Yesterday, as I began the process of un-Christmas-ing the house, I found myself lingering on memories of absent loved ones, particularly the ones who have passed on - their faces, voices, personalities, laughs and quirks.
I feel the collective absence of my family from the homes where we gathered, as if, though new families live there now, there is a parallel universe in which empty rooms echo with our absence.
I feel the absence of our beloved holiday traditions - Christmas Eve services at Christ Church, drives through our beautiful town to see houses and shops decorated with lights, the exchange of gifts, the meals gathered around Grandma and Grandpa's table, and yes, even Grandma Harris' Christmas pudding.
I feel absent from places I love - particularly New England, which will always be "home," (yes, I even miss the cold and snow) and Santa Fe, New Mexico, where, more than any other place I've lived as an adult, I grew into the person I am now. It's where I wrote my first book, found my yoga teacher, became a teacher, and grieved the deaths of my parents. In different ways, these are the two places where I "grew up."
I felt the absence of Christmases past that Dick and I shared over many years, especially the early ones in York Beach, Maine, when we lived in a tiny home and had little money. I feel the absence of the traditions we created together, particularly holiday celebrations and shopping during the Kennebunkport Christmas Preludes (we went to the very first one, 37 years ago!), and the exhilaration and joy we felt crossing back and forth over the bridge in biting cold and wind to gather delights for our families and each other.
In yoga, it can sometimes seem that the idea of "being present" means to push away all memory of the past or thought of the future; to negate or neutralize the feelings that come with remembering or dreaming - especially any sadness, melancholy or longing. But being present means to be with what is arising, in this moment now, and that includes everything.
Life is moments, and what's experienced in those moments will fluctuate. In the moment, sadness arises. In another moment, a smile forms at a memory that, a moment ago, felt wistful.
To think the idea is to smooth out all the fluctuations into some sort of flat line, or to suppress less pleasant feelings in favor of a faux-enlightened state of joy, is to misunderstand.
The trick is not to cling to the past or an imagined future for so long that you miss the life you are living now. I know that my present life holds many blessings and joys. But, for just this little while as we transition from old year to new, I am being present with absence.