As we move through the holiday season and approach the end of the calendar year, people often find themselves in a bit of a frenzy racing from one activity to the next, their heads filled with chatter and a continually growing list of things to do. It is easy to lose ourselves in a flurry of activity and miss out on the purpose behind all the things we tend to do at this time of the year. If you have ever found yourself collapsing in a heap wondering where the time went and feeling depleted rather than filled by the holiday spirit, you know what I’m talking about.
When your pocketbook has reached the place where there just isn’t a lot more give, take comfort in the fact that there is a gift you can share that transcends all others and won’t cost you a thing. It is the gift of presence, a state that allows us to truly bring out the best in ourselves so that we can do the same for others. The gift of presence is one that allows everyone to receive its benefits, and you can experience it wherever you are — whether in a meeting, running an errand, sitting at your desk, or in a conversation with someone important to you. This practice has the power to transform the way you experience your daily life and what it allows you to create for yourself and others — without really doing anything at all.
Can you recall the last time you felt totally and completely attended to?
Chances are it wasn’t when someone was giving you advice or telling you what to do. It may not have even been when someone was engaging in an activity on your behalf or watching you tear open a gift. And yet when we think of giving something to others our minds often immediately jump to what we can do, say or buy for someone. Many times the best gift we can give someone is that of our presence.
But what exactly is presence?
The word present derives from the Latin past participle praesse meaning “to be before one”, from the roots pra – pre + esse – to be. I believe presence is a state of being that’s achieved when we are truly in the moment, allowing it to unfold without judging it, labeling it, or getting lost in our thoughts about what it means or what we believe should be happening next (or instead). Presence allows us to cut through the clamor of our preoccupations, worries and fears so that our true selves can emerge. It is a gateway through which our intuition and inner wisdom enters and expresses itself. A moment of presence is a state of grace that can produce great insights that help us to truly learn from our experiences, make the most of our opportunities and rise up to our challenges in creative ways. In these moments of presence, we know who we really are and what we are truly capable of.
Have you ever noticed that people tend to match each other’s intensity and tone when they are together? Comments about trivial matters are often matched with similar banter. Expressions of fear or dread often elicit responses that are equally charged, and expressions of anger have a way of provoking reactions that people later regret. In a similar manner, moments of presence when shared with others can evoke powerful responses that can be revealing and transformational. This is because when you are truly present with another human being you create a space that allows that person’s true self to come out as well. This is why the best leaders have learned to become comfortable with silence, to listen more than they talk, and to allow themselves to become instruments that help others to recognize their own greatness – not necessarily through anything that say or do, but rather through moments of presence that are created and shared with others.
So how does one cultivate a moment of presence?
It is really rather simple, though far easier said than done.
(1) The first step is to be still. That’s right. Sit still. I know it goes against everything you were probably taught about getting things done and being useful. But do it anyway. You can practice now, while you read this. Become aware of your breathing, of the space you are sitting in, of the weight of your body and how it feels in this moment. Feel the life inside you and trace it to each part of your body. Listen to the sounds around you. Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly.
(2) Become aware of your thoughts. Observe the activity of your mind as it continues to process whatever is there– thoughts like, “this is silly, really – I have way to much to do to be sitting here, doing this…” and “I have to remember to call so and so back today,” and “What did my [boss, colleague, friend, etc.] mean when he/she said…”. Recognize that you are not your thoughts, but rather the thinker of your thoughts. Simply watch them parade around, without getting sucked into them. Feel how much bigger you are than all of that. Continue to breathe it in.
(3) Step three…. There really is no step three. Simply continue to repeat steps one and two, immersing yourself more deeply into the experience with each breath. You don’t need to do this for an extended period of time, unless you want to. Often even a couple of minutes are sufficient to bring you to a more intense state of awareness and aliveness.
In these moments of presence, you will experience things on a different level – one that allows you to respond from a deeper, wiser part of yourself. And when you are with others, you will bring out that deeper, wiser part of them as well. Presence is incredibly powerful to practice with others. The process is the same, except that you expand your awareness to take in the other person as well. Look into their eyes, and listen to what they are saying. But listen to what they are not saying as well. Presence is more about being than doing. So allow yourself to truly BE with another, devoid of judgments, labels, and agendas. When you listen from this place, you are like water to a thirsty plant, allowing others to open up and soak in needed nutrients. And in this space, they may just find the answers they seek as well – not because you are giving them, but because you have created a space that is illuminating for everyone.
Picture by scottchan.