Learning 'presence': the greatest gift you could ever give yourself
In my life coaching practice, whenever I am able to help a client to understand presence, the entire conversation takes on a new shape. Suddenly, there is an anchor point to which the conversation can moor itself. A context can be created whereby problems, grievances, obstacles, and negative emotions can be seen as being the product of a mind that has wandered into regrets from the past or fears about the future, far away from the present moment.
Often the coaching conversation itself serves to create presence for a client. A particular problem or concern from the client is heard, and with poignant questions from the coach, the client is able to examine the roots of the ‘problem’ and strip away the illusory ideas and false beliefs that are holding that problem in place. The client’s own realization that the ‘problem’ is not connected to the present moment, along with the emotional relief that comes as a result of that awareness, reinforces the notion that connecting to the present moment–which is actually the only moment we can ever truly connect to–is all that is needed.
Surrendering To The Moment
When working by ourselves, the Zen koan, ‘What, in this present moment, is lacking?’ can be helpful to ponder. Indeed, it is impossible to truly be in the present moment and actually object to something that is present–all things of that moment are accepted and taken as part of the perfection of that moment. To feel the harmony of all things that make up that moment is to be one with the moment. A sense of peace is an inevitable consequence.
The motto of spiritual teacher Ram Dass is one of my favorites: Be Here Now. A phrase so simple it belies its own profundity. Ram Dass emphasizes that presence is surrendering power and control over then moment, and detaching ourselves from any ‘preferred’ present state and simply aligning with the present state that is.
The most exquisite paradox… as soon as you give it all up, you can have it all. As long as you want power, you can’t have it. The minute you don’t want power, you’ll have more than you ever dreamed possible.
If we are able to follow the imperative to be here now every hour of every day, we would no longer experience guilt, suffering, regret, judgment, grievance, or any other negative emotion.
Rising And Falling
Alas, learning to be present is not usually a one-shot deal, although a few people, including some who have had near-death experiences, have had a sudden and significant shift into presence that imbues their daily experience.
For most of us, learning about presence is a gradual experience that comes and goes like waves rising and falling on the shore. To even be seeking presence in our lives, many of us need that first, seemingly random magical experience, often in natural surroundings, in which we intuit a tremendous connectedness and oneness with everything around us, and feel a great sense of peace, well-being, and compassion for all things.
When the feeling fades, sometimes after many hours of bliss, we seek a reunion with this experience for the rest of our lives. This becomes an incentive to forge ahead on our spiritual journey, where we search for how we can reunite with this experience, and hopefully more permanently.
Awareness Beyond Thinking
Eckhart Tolle, one of the pre-eminent speakers on the subject of presence, explains it this way:
Presence is the arising of a dimension of consciousness from where you can become aware that there is a voice in the head. That awareness is beyond thinking. It’s a space of consciousness where you can be the observer of your own mind—the awareness behind the thought processes.
For human beings to discover this dimension is extraordinarily important. It is in fact, as I see it, the next step in the evolution of humanity.
Tolle discusses practices where you simply sit silently and pay attention to the next thought that comes to you, and then the next. With focus, it becomes possible to notice that we are not really thinking most of our thoughts–often they are thinking us. The realization that we are more than our thoughts creates in us a more authentic identity, one that frees us from many of the addictive thought patterns we otherwise consider an unavoidable part of who we are:
When you no longer look to the mind to provide you with your sense of identity — because your sense of identity now comes now from a deeper place — that’s the shift that changes everything, dramatically. It is the most important thing that can happen in your lifetime.
As Presence arises you’ll find in many areas of your life enormous improvements. One is that the voice in the head that before created such anguish and unhappiness no longer has that power over you.
This is a bit of a different way to arrive at presence: recognize that we have an egoic ‘mind’ that can only reside in the past or the future, and see that who we actually are transcends the thought patterns of that egoic mind. Essentially, when we catch ourselves in states of distress and anxiety, we can remember that we are in this state because we give credence to the thoughts we are thinking as representative of who we are. Moving away from these thoughts and our habit of identifying with them opens the gates of presence.
Developing A Trigger Into Presence
Like most, I still get caught up often in distraction and judgment and feel the negative emotions that come with it. Sometimes I have enough awareness to ask myself the rhetorical question, “Did you forget that everything, in this moment, is perfect?” Because I deeply believe this to be true, this reminder often has the power to snap me quickly out of a state of negative emotion and more fully into presence and the acceptance of the moment.
We each have to develop our own triggers that help us to re-enter presence. But these triggers cannot be mere words, they must be deeply held beliefs which, through your own critical thought and experimentation, you hold to be true.
When we look at this critical thought and experimentation as the foundation of the journey of evolution that spans our lifetimes, we no longer have to be in any ‘rush’ to find presence. Indeed, when we stop rushing to find presence and experience inner peace, that’s when we find it.
Part of my own critical thought and experimentation has been enriched by regular and ongoing digestion of great writings and oral presentations on the matter, from traditions such as Zen Buddhism, and from spiritual teachers like Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle, Dr. David Hawkins, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, and a great list of others.
You will find that all great thinkers on the matter of presence are saying almost the same things using different words, and you will recognize the words not as truth themselves but as pointers to the truth. From there you gradually hone your own truth, which could be put into a phrase like I do, or could just be an inner knowing that, when remembered, allows you to move into presence at your leisure.