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The Power of Presence

By June 11, 20202 Comments


We are living in a moment of deep crisis and possibility. After two weeks of protests and direct actions led by young Black people, there are concrete wins and a huge shifting in discourse. The heartbreak is alive, yet the grief is transmuting into different forms. But we know how deep this rotted root goes. Here in Oakland, the struggle against the police state continues on with the murder of Erik Salgado and the shooting of Brianna Colombo. In Vallejo, the police state took the life of Sean Monterossa. We say their names and may they rest in peace. 

As a woman of color ally, I underwent my own wave of emotions in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police. How do I show up for my Black colleagues and friends? What if me checking in only exacerbates their hurt? These are the well-intentioned and anxious thoughts that were running in circles in my mind, preventing me from reaching out and connecting. 

So I listened to my anxious thoughts, heard the concerns they raised. Then, with one hand on my belly and one hand on my heart, I reached beyond myself to connect with those I hold dear.

I created space in meetings, classes, and any other virtual places I encompassed to name the moment even though my voice wavered and my self-consciousness was telling me that I was doing it wrong. I remained present to my will to show up, to learn, and — most importantly — to be in active relationship with my people. To be present. 

Right now, presence may feel impossible when white supremacy seeks to keep us in a reactive and divided state. It can be an especially hard practice for those of us who experience complex trauma from compounded systemic injustice and violence. However, at Rockwood, presence is at the heart of the 6 Practices of leadership. We believe that attending to a person through deep listening and witnessing is the foundation of Partnership. The practice of Personal Ecology is about sustaining our energy for the long haul of justice. We need to be present to our energy levels to know when we need to rest or reset. To be resilient, we need to be present to moments of stress and crisis in order to consciously shift into a state of resourcefulness. We start every training session with a mindfulness grounding.

Presence invites us to open our hearts compassionately to what we find. At times, it’s easier to keep moving, strategizing, and serving others. With presence, how and with whom I move, strategize, and serve shifts. I am intentionally responsive with a grounded awareness. I am moving with my heart and I am focused on connection. I take my grief with me as it informs my decisions and actions. It grounds me in my power, and I remember that I am just one accomplice of many. I am emboldened in my vulnerability so that I may hold processing space for others while making space and lifting up Black leadership.

Presence alone won’t undo systemic ignorance, violence, and rugged individualism. However, it can highlight the first steps to unlearning, connection, and repair. It is where I connect to my known and unknown ancestors and their wisdom. For me, presence is where I meet the messiness of the moment. This practice is my roadmap to navigating my grief and anxiety as an ally.

Here are some reflection questions to help you get present to this moment:

  • How is my heart feeling at this moment?
  • What is most alive for me right now?
  • What is difficult or impossible to hold at this moment? 
  • How is my body and spirit doing? What nourishment am I in need of at this moment?
  • What is mine to do right now? What is mine to share?

We know this road is long and arduous. My commitment to this work has never been stronger and more tender. Presence strengthens our relationship with ourselves and others. May the invitation back to the practice of presence sustain and strengthen you for our journey.


  • Nora says:

    🙌🏽 Yes! Thank you for sharing this, Raj. I am going to learn more about Personal Ecology.

Rockwood Community Call

Kris Mereigh,  MPH, CWP.

public health and wellness strategist

June 27 | 12 PT / 3 ET