Back in my high school cross country days, I loathed 800 repeats. They hurt for too long. But it was during this suffering that I discovered beauty. On one miserable autumn torture session in the park after school, the coach gathered our crumbling lot and instructed us to pay attention as the star runner completed his effort.
"Look at his eyes," he said to the half-dozen teenage girls whining to cut the workout short. While this request certainly elicited a collective eye roll, it worked - at least on me. As our hero strode by, he seemed unaware of the onlookers. His dark eyes focused on some elusive target. Until that point, I'd never seen such intensity projected. However, high school decorum meant quickly averting my stare and erasing all traces of enchantment.
In the 16 years that passed, that piercing look seemed to exist only within my memory's confines. But this summer, I recognized it at the velodrome. No longer an embarrassed 16-year-old, I allowed it to draw me in. It lingered in my head for a few days. In all honesty, it consumed my thoughts to the point of disruption. What was it about this not-quite-far-off, but not-quite-there gaze that moved me?
Desire? Determination? Certainly, but it seemed those were just elements. Then it hit me. I'd witnessed presence. That "look" was the appearance of someone fully in the moment. And its fervor tantalized my spirit.
In creative pursuits we talk about flow - those glorious periods when everything fades away and we lose ourselves in our art. Heck, we become our art. Athletes, teachers, activists, lovers, anyone can experience flow, but it seems impossible to achieve this state without passion.
Presence, it would seem, is passion in action. And being present enough to observe the beauty of another's presence, well, that must be where inspiration lives.