There is nothing more important to me than presence. The amount of presence can turn a high moment into a transcendent moment while turning a low moment into an invaluable learning opportunity. Lack of presence creates a scripted life that I fear most people live.
By scripted life I mean an individual becomes an actor in a play — rather than a human being. If it is a man, he plays the role of favored (or wayward) son, devoted (or unfaithful) husband, dedicated (or deadbeat) father, and so on. If it is a woman, she plays the role of dutiful (or ditsy) daughter, sacrificial (or selfish) wife, doting (or domineering) mother, and so on. This is a scripted life. Note: I have only identified a few of the many available scripts.
We don’t need to imagine what individuals leading scripted lives might say or do. They say and do what is expected of them — as it is written. Their feelings of happiness and pride depend on how successful they are in doing what is expected of them while their feelings of pain and despair are the result of not meeting expectations. Human limitation is not seen as a function of unique individuality but as evidence that the script is not being followed. The script is never questioned. The script is written by those who know better (the older generation, celebrities, philosophers, etc.) and must be followed.
Presence means unplugging from ‘the matrix’ — the imposed limitations of human thought and action. It does not necessarily lead to happiness, as Morpheus explains to Neo through the metaphor of the blue pill/red pill. “Ignorance is bliss” as Cypher claims, regretting that he didn’t take the blue pill, which would have allowed him to go back to the scripted life (see The Matrix, 1999). It is ironic that Cypher asked the agents to make him an actor once inserted back into the matrix. He could then follow a script both literally and figuratively — but a script he controlled by making a deal with the devil.
However, the bigger irony is that by initially taking the red pill (choosing reality over ignorance), he was already controlling the script. Power and agency do not come from control of results or outcomes but control of decisions and responses. No one can have complete control of outcomes whether they live a scripted life or not. But those who reject the scripted life at least control their decisions and their responses to everything — desirable or otherwise — that fate throws at them. The scripted life, which is predicated on conformity, can provide a measure of security; however, the price for that security is not only the suppression of truth but also the suppression of free will and originality. Even Cypher’s tragic and misguided decision to return to blissful ignorance was the result of the free will that came from the initial rejection of that same ignorance.
Presence is consciously choosing to live in the world that is and to not simply exist in the world that isn’t.