I began this blog by talking about the sacredness of story. I suggested that when we are in doubt or confused or stuck – turn to story, to focus on the story of the other or share story ourselves. I suggested that story is the great connector. Story is neither right nor wrong, better or best – it just is. In my last blog I broke open the concept of ‘guest’. Guest-ness is HOW we come to an encounter. The guest comes to the sacred ground of encounter, of story – slowly, gently, respectfully, open and trusting. This guest-ness creates a space of safety for true and profound encounter to occur.
If guest-ness is HOW we come to an encounter then presence is what we do once we are there. It is no accident that so many spiritual writers; Thich Nhat Hanh, Richard Rohr, Joan Chittester, Eckhart Tolle, Jean Pierre de Caussade and more – speak of the power of presence.
Just as guest-ness is a choice we deliberately make of how we will come to encounter so too is presence. Presence is a choice we make to be totally and profoundly there with and for the other. It is other centred-ness. Presence is the choice to focus on the other – their voice, their body language, their silence, their journey, their story in such a way that they feel held, heard – at the gut level – within. Presence is powerful. Presence says to the other – speaks to their heart and says, “You are beautiful! You are special! You are honoured! You are gift – just as you are!” Our presence says this – we don’t need to use words. In fact some of the most powerful experiences of presence are wordless.
This is one of the gifts of presence. The other ‘hears’ with the gut, they intuit that we are there for them, that we believe in them, that we respectfully want to walk beside them. There are so many words out there. There is so much talking. So often the person we are in relationship with, are encountering, has heard too much, has been let down too often – so when we are truly and deeply present to them – they get it, they hear it intuitively – it speaks to them within. In a profound way they KNOW in a knowing beyond the head or the intellect – to their self, their very spirit.
Presence is a way of being with that says (beyond words) “I am with you, I am not above you, I am not even for you – I am with you!” But presence says this in a way that is disarming. This choice to be present does not come from a patronising place, it does not come with pity or charity. Presence simply comes and sits with and does so in a way that the other senses oneness and peace, senses non-judgement and acceptance, senses genuine relationship and reciprocity, senses a heart desire to just be with.
Presence is a choice. It must be freely given and freely received. Presence must come from a free inner space – anything else and it is not authentic. Presence, like guest-ness senses the sacred ground of encounter, knows deeply the innate dignity of self and the other and now chooses to be there for the other. The intuition of holy ground leads us to take off our shoes (our shoes of dominance, or holier than or better than or saviour or ego) and walk gently in this sacred space. Presence is not allowing the ego thinking to focus on;
- the truthfulness or not of the other’s story
- the facts of the story
- the inconsistencies
- the they ‘should have’ or ‘could haves’ of the story and more
No presence – is simply, deeply in that space of encounter totally with and totally free.
The elements I spoke about with guest-ness are all a part of presence too. Each element – eg listening – is part of HOW we come to the other (guest-ness) and what we DO in the encounter (presence). Each element does the tango of guest leading to presence; a mind and heart set of HOW we come and what we do. So in presence we;
- Listen deeply – often beyond the words
- Touch respectfully
- See with non-labeling eyes – truly see through the lens of innate dignity
- Hear the deeper cry, hear the silent cry – hear the whisper of hope and love and risk and trusting
- Speak words that come from our trusting of our heart – and these words with en-courage (give courage to) and have a power and a magic that is beyond us – in this trusting space linked to presence we will be in awe and ‘surprised’ by what our heart articulates through our words (“Wow, where did that come from?”)
- Allow and choose to be deeply in and within silence in the encounter
- Wait at the door of encounter with the other – knocking gently and celebrating whatever the response of the other is
Part of presence is to hold lightly. In my work possibly my most often asked question is, “Whose needs are getting met here?” Too often we are too invested in the outcome that we want. Too often we are ego driven and not aware of it. Too often we are kidnapped by our unaware needs. Too often we are ‘present’ as a role we are playing or part of the act we are performing – because it is what we are meant to ‘do’. Too often we place far too much emotional investment into an ego driven outcome. Presence invites us into awareness – self awareness – and from this space to hold whatever comes to the surface and to hold it lightly. Holding lightly means not reading too much into something, it means not over reacting, it means not overly focusing on something – but to allow the spirit action present in the dynamic to do its work regardless of us.
None of this can occur unless we let go, allow and give. Presence comes from the space of total other centred-ness. Presence invites total self-giving and complete focus on the other. But the paradox – the paradox present in all love – is that in this very giving we receive. In this very giving we find life. In this very giving we move into a space of peace and joy – a joy that is way deeper than being ‘happy’.
This self-giving, this focus on the other within the dynamic of encounter leads to a deep inner freedom. When you give from a free inner space where you are ‘ego aware’ and thus the giving really has no strings attached – you paradoxically experience even more inner freedom. This freedom is so all encompassing that you are almost not even aware of it. You are just free! Others see it, others sense it – and especially the other in your sacred encounter will sense it. It is the freedom of the lover of life and earth and other. It is the freedom that is not even thinking of image or effect or even the dynamics within the encounter but is so deeply trusting of the integrity of their own journey and their free choice to be present – that they just ‘are’.
One term that I use in my work is ‘crap detector’. This Australian term refers to what the other senses when we are not authentic, when we are playing a game, when what is happening is all show. When we are not honest (with self or other), when we are performing or playing a game, when we are not authentic / genuine – then the other will sense it and their inner ‘crap detector’ will go off. In presence the crap detector does not go off because the other senses intuitively that we are real, we are genuinely in this space of encounter in a reciprocal / respect filled away. This is deeply liberating for both parties in the encounter.
The Austrian Jewish philosopher Martin Buber made famous the concept of I – Thou as distinct from I – It. The I – Thou approach to encounter and to relationship is deeply linked to presence. The I – It approach sees the other as ‘different’, as an ‘it’ – a thing to be dominated, a box to be ticked, or victory won over whereas the I – Thou approach invited intimacy, dialogue, true encounter and personal liberation. The I – Thou approach to life, to relationship, to the planet itself will lead to a sense of the ultimate oneness of all and of the unity, rightness and beauty of love.
So presence, based upon the how of approaching dialogue and encounter as guest – is a deliberate choice to enter into people’s lives, onto their sacred ground. In this space you choose to be totally present – you choose to be totally in that space with the other. This requires the sacrifice of ego, of any win – lose dynamic.
This dynamic of presence is all around us. Have you ever watched a mother or father holding their baby. So often that dynamic draws the mother or father totally into the presence of the baby. They are totally there. They are not thinking “Have we got any milk in the fridge?” Have you ever been present not long after the birth of a child. When the mother or father holds their child for the first time? It is total presence. It is awe inspiring. It is powerful.
Powerful experiences of nature can have a similar effect. I can remember being on an outdoor adventure camp with a group of 14 year old boys and we got them out of their tents at about 4 am and amidst much grumbling led them up a nearby mountain by torchlight. We got to the ridge line summit about thirty minutes before dawn. We invited them to just ‘sit’ in the silence of the morning. Slowly the dark turned to grey to reds and yellows and purples and there was absolute silence – an awe filled silence – as the sun came up. When we reflected with the students several days later they named this as one of the highlights of the camp experience. During this time the students were drawn into the moment – they were deeply present. It had a magic to it.
One of the great gifts of the writer Eckhart Tolle and his work, ‘The Power of Now’ is that presence draws us deeply into the present moment – full stop. It is not going back into the past, it is not wishing into the future. Presence is fully in the NOW. The present moment is complete unto itself. The invitation and the challenge of course – is in-spite of our humanness to be in that moment, to be self aware and present. This is an adventure and a life long journey. I don’t know that any of us ever perfect presence – in some ways when we think we have it is a litmus test that we surely have not!
We are not a door-mat
In true presence we are not a door-mat. We don’t become some sort of mat that others walk on and over. It is not a place where we, as martyr allow ourselves to be used and abused. That space is not presence for presence builds up both self and other in a way that is mutually enhancing, empowering and liberating. Through true presence we both – us and the other – grow to be more liberated and more our best selves. That is the fruit and the gift of presence. Through presence I come to know that I am lovable, I am special, I am gift – just as I am – and the other is too!
Presence will gift us with this message – at the level of the ‘gut’ – the deepest inner self (the true self) beyond our ego, beyond our layered narrative, beyond our ‘history’. True presence will unbind us and let us go free. True presence will silence the ego, re-story our narrative and allow us to know profoundly that none of us is a victim of our history nor trapped in it forever more.
This whole adventure of presence is a journey. We never fully arrive – but it is not about arrival. It is not about getting there. It is all about getting up each day and choosing where we can and how we can to be present to self, to other and to the Earth itself. It is about a thousand little choices all through our day – to be in that present moment, to be present to the other, to celebrate life warts and all.
Each morning and each evening I try to have a twenty minute ‘sit’. Many call this centering prayer. I simply sit and just ‘be’ and be present. I try to allow the Universe to hold me and honour me as I try to hold and honour it. Sure I am distracted a hundred times during that twenty minutes – but that is not the point. I simply try to choose to come back to my centre – through the use of my sacred word – and be present in that space and stillness. In the seconds when I find myself in that space – something special happens – I am wrapped in a presence and it is gift and it is good and it is love.
When the chimes sound three times at the end of my sit I try to do three actions. With the first chime I slowly take my arms is a large all encompassing circle. As the second chime sounds I take my arms into the Namaste pose and honour my sit. With the third and final chime I fold my arms across my chest and my heart. Presence – to all, to other, to self. One step at a time!
In my next blog I want to break open compassion. When one chooses to come as guest to the innate dignity and sacred story of the other – choosing to be deeply present to them – our hearts will naturally open in compassion; a compassion this world is so desperate for!