Choosing To Be Present
When did you forget to be present with those you love? Is it the love affair with speed that ambushes
your attention span? Is this partial attention habit affecting your quality of life?
Have you said this to yourself recently: “When you enter the domain of your spouse, tell them that you are here and fully present. Don’t give partial attention; choose to deliver your full undivided attention.”
This is about showing up, ready for anything, and expecting nothing. It is confessing your presence no matter what’s going on. Pema Chodron calls this way of leaning in, “tender-hearted bravery.” You step into the situation with an open heart. You’re not running from anything or holding onto anything; you’re neutral.
If he/she is suffering, let them know that you see that they are suffering, and stay with them. Staying with them doesn’t necessarily mean physically staying with them. It may involve giving them the space they need. Staying involves not adding any meaning or interpretation to the moment of suffering. We automatically tend to do this in search of stability. We tend to find our stability over giving full attention to unstable matters at hand. No feeling is final, because nothing stays the same. When we realize that instability ends like turbulence on an airplane, we bring the loving patience to ride it out. We can even relate with our own inner pain the same way.
The challenge is separating your own concepts from what is happening. Rather than operating from them, befriend them. Be the eye behind the eye, and see how you see. Your quality of awareness can generate powerful change. Staying in your concepts can lead to results nobody wants. Taking things personal can bring you into indignation, control, and manipulating to offset your reactive stance.
When you’re present to your thinking as just thinking, you can pivot to a no-identity place. Your identity isn’t part of what is listening; instead you’re listening from another source. You listen empathically by going outside your own seeing to the other person’s point of view. You go to this place of potential by seeing from within the periphery. This is where vulnerability is key to reaching out with a wide open heart.
You move your field of awareness from a first person orientation to a third person orientation. You might say that it’s a move away from “ME” being at the center to “THEM.” During the shift, the model of right/wrong goes out the window, instead you seek to understand perceptions, interpretations, and expectations in the 3rd person orientation. You begin noticing that the mind composes a “story” that we all have as our version of a reality we make up. In a 3rd person orientation, you can explore differences and variations, without making judgmental comparisons to your own view.
The choice to slow down and validate the other person’s story is an act of compassion. It is your inclination to do this, as you come to know your true nature. You operate from the love that you are, because you choose to generate out of love. And there appears to be another level of awareness beyond the empathic one. This deeper place is where an emerging future possibility awaits you to come into form. I call this place from “nowhere.”
Where does it come from and how does it come into form? The space out of which you help it come. Life is in the business of organizing life. You bring nothing but your intention to be present here and now. By letting go completely and listening generously and deeply, there comes a point where something is tending to end, as something else is about to enter and reveal itself. Something is no longer working; an old thought pattern or framework is on the chopping block. Think of it like making space in your closet; like making an invitation to something new.
As you arrive in the present moment this way, you make yourself fully available to what wants to emerge. This can happen in minutes, hours, or milliseconds. Something rushes in that is felt with the hands. Your entire body becomes an open receptacle for tuning into new patterns of order and energy from which you animate your movement. Words suddenly leave your lips that surprise you. Your body moves with the whisper coming from this formative place. You succumb to its ticklish point of entry.
Have you seen this inner process take place between people? I remember stepping into an argument recently with a tenant and landlord about an electric bill. The landlord shifted her listening in this way. A few minutes later something collapsed between them like a balloon popped, and they embraced in tears. The tenant said their own fussing and fighting was petty, and they felt suddenly awakened by a larger context of good will and support.
It was like something suddenly came over the tenant in the blink of an eye. She had been glimpsed by a certain order that was all there in the backdrop of the bantering. There wasn’t a need to hold onto her fear of being taken advantage of anymore. As the landlord just listened in silence, she gave the tenant nothing to push up against, only a generous and altruistic listening.
No command, no control, no conquering, no forcing, and no judgment. Just a generous presence harmonized with the situation as if she invited it. This way of attending triggered an emerging shift in the tenant, showing that when one party shifts their interior condition, so too does the other. They are interdependent. Patterns at play in a relationship determine the properties of the enactors.
When you’re suffering, say it. Acknowledge it. Let your spouse know, and ask for help. “I’m suffering, here’s why I am. Can you help?” This positions them to choose their way into the present moment. You’re inviting them to move from head to heart and work from the whole, not from the me me me position.
In this brief, we’ve looked at three invitations to presence with another person: Being present in general, being present to the suffering moments of another, and bringing another into our suffering moments. But there’s one more. Thank those you’re with for being present with you. Acknowledge the gift of their presence. It lets them know they’re valued, important, and understood. When you do this, you’re asking them for their highest quality of being and attention this moment. Nothing is a greater gift than the “present.”
So how do you choose to enter the present moment?