‘Tis the season of gifting. One of the most basic, human and powerful gifts you can give to others (and yourself) is the gift of presence. When you give your alert relaxed attention to whatever is in front of you, whether in good or bad times, or for everyday tasks, the benefits multiply.
In a recent conversation with a colleague, the topic of presence came up. I was reminded at how powerful a construct this is. For me, when things being to go awry, returning to the principles of presence grounds and re-centers me. What a perfect topic to address at this time of year, where stress levels can reach an all-time high.
In essence, presence is showing up 100%. Being fully engaged and giving your complete, undistracted attention to the current moment. Notice. Observe. If necessary, take action based on what you notice and observe. In fact, making decisions from this perspective is a sound way to decide. Operating in this way is more of a lifelong practice, vs. a skill you completely master at some point.
It may be easier to explain what presence is not vs. what it is. What it’s not is:
– operating on auto-pilot. You know those times when you’re driving your car, and the next thing you know you’ve driven past your exit, or you look around and say, “wow, I’m here already?”
– reading a book, the paper or watching TV while your child or partner is speaking to you.
– being on the phone speaking with someone while simultaneously checking email, texts or typing something completely unrelated on your computer at the same time.
– walking with your head hunched over your cell phone like a turtle as you respond to your latest text. Better yet, doing this as you cross the street!
– holding a grudge for something that happened an hour ago, days ago or years ago.
Examples of presence in action:
– eating a meal and really tasting each bite. Noticing the texture of the food in your mouth and the colors on the plate before you eat.
– having a conversation with someone and giving them 100% of your attention. If you’re in person with them, looking them in the eye. Active listening without interrupting or thinking about what you’re going to say before they finish. If you’re on the phone (and not Skype) computer is off and distractions are out of reach.
– mindful walking. When you walk, notice your posture, your pace, how your feet feel in your shoes, touching the earth as you move. Notice what’s around you.
– when you wash dishes, notice how the suds look and temperature of the water feels. Focus on one dish at a time, and how clean it’s getting. When thoughts drift to other goings-on or things you could be doing, bring them back to the dishes.
– using the opportunity in each moment to start over with a clean slate: with yourself, with someone else, with a task.
When you are present with whatever it is you’re doing, that’s the ultimate in engaging in life. When you do so, that’s LIVING: you are giving a gift to yourself in noticing more about life. When you are present with another individual, that is a huge gift to them. How many times in a given day do you receive the gift of someone’s undivided non-judging attention?
When I am present with my work, I find I make fewer mistakes, my work is of better quality, and I complete my task sooner (vs. servicing various interrupts). When I am present with others, I have richer conversations and pave the way for better mutual understanding and relationships. When I am present with just being in the world, I feel more connected, grounded and calm.
Presence is especially beneficial in difficult times. Literally focusing on one moment at a time, whether for yourself or in support of a friend who is suffering. Showing up, without judgment or preconceived notions, and allowing the space for being with whatever arises is very powerful.
If you would like to read more about presence, my favorite books on this topic are by Eckhart Tolle. Specifically, look for “A New Earth” and “The Power of Now.” Each book is not meant to be read cover to cover in a few days, but digested slowly, bit by bit. In fact, as certain pieces of wisdom strike you as you read these books, I recommend pausing and sitting with them for a few minutes before moving on.