Presence in the City

Some people say that after growing up in the country they would never live in a city or if they had to move there for work, they could not be happy…

I grew up in the mountains of Vermont and I don’t choose city life for the ‘fun’ of it or even for the opportunities. I love getting to know people from all over the world, but I am not here for the culture. I am here because of the people.

I have known a great contrast to streets full of vehicles, exhaust, noise and complication. I know how life can feel when surrounded by fireflies, star-filled skies and the smells of plants and grasses in the meadows. I know the cozy friendliness of a small town and the ancient feeling of swimming in fresh, wild waters. When I encounter natural beauty everywhere I go, it is a constant reminder for me of how deep and rich life is. In the city, although there is nature here and there and it is precious and very supportive, it is impossible to experience the fullness of being submerged in a mostly natural and partly still-wild environment. In the city there is a concentration of the toxic: there is the constant reminder of the de-natured human being nearly everywhere I turn. Yet I keep feeling moved to work and to live in cities.

Los Angeles was my first one after high school. I spent five years there and learned lots about the world, about people and about myself. I discovered that, under our exteriors, people are all the same everywhere you go. There are no ‘city people’ and ‘country people’: in truth there are only people who have become more used to one kind of environment or another. As a child I used to think it was outrageous when Fresh Air Children (a program where inner-city youth would get to spend time in the country with a host family) would come live with my cousins for the summer and they would be so afraid of things like mosquitos and bears. Yet when I went to the city, I was terrified of the subway, of getting lost and afraid of all the ‘strange’ people… it’s the same thing: a tension with the unfamiliar and the unknown.

Now I’m in Oakland, California where I find a sampling of all the things that are going on for people everywhere in the world: the illness and abuse, the lessons and avoidance, the stagnation and struggles, the internal suffering and the growing sound of a true call for something different.

I find my apartment, the parks and redwood forest nearby, to be absolutely beholding… And, with the support of the Ageless Wisdom, I have been developing a growing steadiness within myself. It is this second factor that makes it possible for me to handle what is going on around me without reacting (too much) and withdrawing like I used to do, which was painful, since I knew that when I was focusing on ‘what was not working’, going into misery and giving up on myself, that this then contributed to the very suffering I so hate in the world.

I now find a deep sense of purpose in taking care of myself so that I have the kind of fitness that makes it possible for me to wake up and go ‘out there’ being me and staying with myself.

What I see is that despite all the delay that comfort and distractions can buy for us, the turmoil and pain of not living life in a way that is true to who we are, leads people to call for something different. This is the point where people are more likely to instantly recognise something in another, seeing another way to be without getting caught up in the spin of life.

As one example, I have had people thank me when I get off the bus, simply because we have had an open, considerate, mutual exchange based on connecting. I wonder why this is not collectively seen as our norm?

I can’t ignore what is happening – the absence of true community, the plague of given-up-ness I see in people and how we are living that contributes to keeping it all going around and around…

What I see and feel when I walk down the streets of the San Francisco, (one of the country’s greatest tourist destinations) are daily examples of this devastation in humanity.

I’ve seen an elderly man cooking up heroine in a bus stop while a girl and her mother waited outside. I see individuals, and sometimes entire groups of individuals, sitting on cardboard and trash covered sidewalks, shooting heroine and smoking and selling all kinds of things. I have been offered many things to smoke and I have seen a long row of people frozen in the stupor of the drug they call spice (a dangerous synthetic version of marijuana). I have seen people urinating, masturbating and defecating on the busy sidewalks while business people walk around them to go up into the impeccable, yet flashy, corporate buildings… I have looked in their eyes too and I have not felt that they are much better off than those on the street…

I’ve seen multiple homeless camps around Oakland of varying quality. They are funded by many sources, including the Government, profiteering companies and charities, yet all of them are riddled with crime and violence, and so are perpetuating the self-defeating cycles the homeless people are caught in. None of these presented solutions truly deal with the cause of homelessness…

What I have learned in my life is that we need to truly understand what causes an issue before we rush to ‘help’ otherwise that ‘help’ may just contribute to the very thing we don’t like.

But what I have also experienced is the many daily examples of what is possible when I connect to the true beauty I find in the eyes of people when they are reminded that they are so much more than all this mess.

For example, recently a disoriented young man that wandered into my place of work and started having seizures. By simply remaining present with him while the medics attended to him, looking into his eyes, covering him with a blanket and holding his head, – focusing on the care and respect for him, I was able to offer a true connection that was not laced with sympathy. On another occasion, a young woman walked onto our campus, looking very dishevelled and barely able to hold a cohesive conversation. She became argumentative when she was advised she was trespassing. By simply holding the understanding that she was disassociated from her body’s senses, walking with her for a while and chatting with her quietly, this offering of true connection – again without judgment or sympathy – enabled her to calm down while we accessed the support she needed.

All of this confirms within me my resolve and commitment to never again withdraw from life, giving up on being me in this crazy world. I understand now how that guarantees that I join and contribute to the illness, psychosis and suffering that I so hate to see and feel happening for anyone. I know what direction I am going and what I want to contribute to this place while we are here.

I have come to know that it is my quality of presence that makes a difference. I see such immense, otherworldly beauty in the faces of people when they catch a glimpse, a reflection, a reminder of who they truly are…

No matter how convincing the illusion of our smallness can be, no matter how pain-filled our existence can be when not accessing the greater aspect of who we are, we light up from within when we are reminded of the same powerful quality that lives within us all. When we meet someone who is with themselves and shining, despite living in the same world we do, we can be reminded of something more true than the reality we have personally fallen for and collectively created.

The more I come back to what makes sense to me, the more alive I feel. It feels both natural and truly lovely to be more ‘with myself’. I have more access to what I’m feeling and what I know deep down. I can sense how interconnected we all are, and I’m able to offer the best present anyone can give or receive and that is simply me, a true presence; my presence in the city.

By Jo Elmer, Safety & Security Advisor, Oakland, CA, USA

Further Reading:
Sea Change
Seeking Connection and True Relationships
Connecting to People: No Such Thing as ‘Strangers’

13 thoughts on “Presence in the City

  1. What a present our presence is and it is not gifted to us but through our alignment to God we connect to the God we all are and thus allow the presence to flow through us and by allowing others to align to what they choose we are non-imposing as you have so amazingly shared Jo.

  2. “No matter how convincing the illusion of our smallness can be, no matter how pain-filled our existence can be when not accessing the greater aspect of who we are, we light up from within when we are reminded of the same powerful quality that lives within us all. When we meet someone who is with themselves and shining, despite living in the same world we do, we can be reminded of something more true than the reality we have personally fallen for and collectively created.”

    What you are sharing here is very powerful Jo because we can now meet people like you who are reflecting a different way to live, so that we can be reminded of a different way to be. We may not choose it in this life because the grip of the consciousness we are living under is very subjugating, but the seed has been sown that there is something different, it does exist.

  3. Jo what you have written feels very power-full and so easy especially if we were to stop rushing and instead took some time to connect to each other as you do Jo, then miracles can happen because we can get to feel a greater sense of who we are.

  4. Thank you Jo for we can all understand what that life has many ways to control us but when we align to the magnificence of our essence as you have shared, we all feel the amazing reality that we are more than human and thus are connected on another level.

  5. Thank you Jo. Life is full of contrasts and city / country is one of these. The essence of what has been offered here draws attention to ‘what’ we reflect in every moment, every situation, every place we find ourselves in and that is ‘ourselves’ – present, open, integrity and love, all free of the judgements that cloud the beauty that is already there.

  6. Jo, I deeply resonate with your impulse to live in the City. My reasons are the same. I came to study at Nottingham University and through doing research for my studies I realised how this City has been by-passed from receiving government grants due to the people’s past reputation of being rebellious against harsh government policies, going way back in history. A beautiful City in many ways but with many poorer areas. I stayed here after my studies, and I feel the pull of that energy that holds people in painful patterns of coping as it circulates around us, like a seething vulture preying on vulnerable people any opportunity it can. I too have found that I have developed a steadiness of presence of another way of living, and I love to walk about these City streets and offer this to the people by just being there.

  7. Dear Jo,
    Thank you for the gorgeous blog addressing what is really going on in society, and how we can be with it as ourselves versus being in reaction and overwhelm of what we have seen or experienced, and often withdrawing or giving up. I appreciated reading this, it is very pertinent to me at the moment.

  8. Thanks Jo. A very beautiful piece that transmits very clearly a beautiful timeless quality of yours, a spaciousness within that takes life out of time to then offer a heart that is open to re/present God to other Gods. Having you in the city is a true blessing!

  9. What is so deeply felt when reading your words Jo, is that life truly is about connection and being with another and never against. We all yearn deep down for this connection and being able to just be ourself. And it does not matter where one is and however the circumstances, when we allow ourself to simply make any moment one of connection and understanding everyone involved can settle more deeply within themselves and let go of what one normally is so used to being caught up in.

    1. Esther I totally agree with you when you say
      “when we allow ourself to simply make any moment one of connection and understanding everyone involved can settle more deeply within themselves and let go of what one normally is so used to being caught up in.”
      I went to see a friend for a cup of tea. I haven’t been to their home for at least two years. Even just entering the drive I could feel a deep settlement of space and when entering the house it was so gorgeous to actually feel the offering of stillness. So there is a way to live where we can be in the settlement of life rather than in the nervous tension of life and the body can feel this and actually sigh with relief that there is a space where it can just let go and just be. Just imagine if this was a way we could all live and not just in isolated pockets of a certain way to live. There would be no reason to want to check out on life because life would be so full and complete.

  10. Hi Jo
    Such a beautiful blog to read and bring more understanding too, of our environment, and where we live and how by being present wherever we live, we are able to hold another with love and equalness.
    Thank you
    Susan Croke

  11. A powerful piece of writing and a testimony to what reflection brings to all of us, thank you Jo. You cut right through the layers and divides, in our surroundings and in ourselves and bring it back to what matters, our true innateness.

  12. Wow beautiful Jo – it’s unmistakably clear in the way that you write that the majesty of the trees or grandness of the stars is right here and waiting inside for us to connect and be present with. It’s a natural wonder we can never spoil, only take some vacations from.

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